It’s the hot topic in fitness. Strengthen your core! But what does it really mean? What’s the real benefit? And why work on muscles you can’t see?
Well, let’s get to the core of the matter.
Your core actually includes a complex arrangement of muscles that hold you together. You can’t make a move without using your core muscles. They include all the muscles of the upper, lower, and sides of the abdomen, and the muscles that support your spine from your neck to your tailbone. A strong core gives greater balance, stability and control, and reduces the risk of injury. It will improve your posture, and help prevent back pain, keeping you fitter and stronger for longer.
Even endurance athletes like runners and cyclists work on their core. They find they are stronger and have a smoother cadence. They even increase speed and power because with a strong core you are using the larger stronger muscles of your abs and back to accelerate your legs.
If you’re working in the gym, your core gives you the balance and control to really focus your lifting and resistance exercises on the target muscles. Your press ups can focus on your arms, not stopping you from tilting or twisting. Your reps can really do their job, and build the muscles they were meant to. Plus, a strong core keeps your whole body stable and balanced. This means you can complete each movement smoothly and with control. The outcome? Less risk of injury and more effective lifting that really targets the muscles you want to work on.
So how do you build your core? The most important thing you can do is simple – just be aware of your core whatever exercise you’re doing. Concentrate on engaging your abdominal and back muscles, focus on your posture and keeping your back straight and your abs tight, making your reps or your strides smooth, and controlling your pace and movement.
You can do more by adapting some of your routine to include your core. Try getting your crunches off the floor and onto an exercise ball. As you pull into your crunch, concentrate on using all you abdominal muscles to keep from rolling from side to side or front to back on the ball. Try swapping the bench for an exercise ball when you are doing dumbbells chest press. You’ll have to concentrate on using your core to keep the ball from moving, adding a great dimension to your workout.
You can add some core exercises to your own routine. You don’t need any extra equipment, but a mat and exercise ball will make your core workout more comfortable and more fun. Here’s a few exercises to get you started!
Lie on the mat on your stomach, and lift yourself up until you’re resting on your forearms. Keep your back and hips straight, and your head lined up with your back. Tighten your abs, and hold the position for three breaths, working up to ten. Lie back down on the floor, recover, and repeat.
Lie on the mat on your back with your knees bent and your ankles no wider than your hips. Keep your back straight, your pelvis tucked in, tighten your abs and lift your butt off the floor until your hips line up between your knees and your shoulders. Concentrate on keeping your hips level, not tilting side to side. Tighten your abs, and hold the position for three breaths, working up to ten. Lie back down on the floor, recover, and repeat.
If you’ve got a ball, try these, but if you’re new to using the ball try doing them in a doorway or next to a wall the first time so you can balance yourself if you need to.
The bridge on the ball
Lie on the mat on your back with your heels on the ball. Tighten your abs and slowly lift your hips off the floor until your hips make a straight line from your heels to your shoulders. Hold for a three breaths and gently lower yourself back to the floor. When you get really good, you can make this exercise harder by lifting your hips, then lifting one leg off the ball, holding for three breaths, then lowering it back to the ball. Repeat with the other leg, each time concentrating on not letting the ball move from side to side.
Back extension on the ball
Lie face down on the ball so the ball is under your hips, with your legs straight out, balancing on your toes. Put your hands across your chest, and lift your shoulders until your body is in a straight line. Keep your abs tight, and don’t go past the straight line. Hold for one breath, lower and repeat 5 times, working up to three sets of ten.
Remember, with a strong and powerful core, you will be able to squat heavier. More gain and more muscles.
Martin Bolduc, CPT
** Martin Bolduc is the author of the Ultimate Guide to Express Fat Loss and the winner of the Lean Body Challenge 2008. Martin is a Certified Personal Trainer ACE and BCRPA and a natural bodybuilder. Martin helps hundreds of clients to reach their goals. Download your Special Report on Express Fat Loss