There is a lot of talk around the gym these days about the “core.” Gotta work the core, stabilize the core, engage the core. But what does that mean? What exactly is the core. And why do I need to engage it? I will explain a little bit about the core, why it is important to strengthen these muscles, and examples of some exercises to do just that.
Basically, the core is the “girdle of muscles around your midsection.” This includes abdominal muscles around your stomach, your obliques on your sides, your lower back, hips, and glutes (butt muscles). These are muscles that help stabilize your trunk during dynamic movements. Stabilizing the trunk is important not only for athletes in their sport, but for all of us in everyday life. How many times do you sit down in a chair and stand up? How often do you carry your child or a bag of groceries? Bend down to pick up something off the ground? Twist in the car to look behind you as you change lanes? Each of these movements require the use of your core muscles and if you have a weak core, these movements might cause pain for some people. A very common example is pain in the lower back, which can be caused by weak glutes and weak lower back. If you sit at a desk all day, you do not have a chance to exercise and use these muscles, so they become weak, which adds extra pressure on your lower back. But, by tightening up your core muscles, you can relieve some of this extra pressure.
When working on your core there are some key points to keep in mind:
1. Start slow and build up as you strengthen your core. Don’t start with a full sit up if you have never worked out. Instead, raise just your shoulders off the ground.
2. Do not round the back or tuck in your chin when performing core movements. Keep the chin facing up or forward and maintain a straight, flat back
3. Remember to exercise each of your core muscles, not just the abs
4. Breathe through your movements. Holding your breath during these exercises could potentially be dangerous.
A Few Key Exercises:
1. Standard Crunch. Lay on the floor with feet on the ground and knees bent. Place hands behind your head, point your chin towards the ceiling and raise your shoulders up using your abs. Start with 1-2 sets of 10 (upper abdominals)
2. Ceiling Stompers. Lay flat with your hands tucked under your glutes and raise your legs toward the ceiling, legs straight. Raise and lower your glutes off the ground using your abs. Again, 1-2 sets of 10 (lower abdominals)
3. Bicycles. Lay flat on the ground legs stretched out and hands behind your head. Point your chin to the ceiling and one at a time, bring opposite knee to opposite elbow. 1-2 sets 5-10 each leg (obliques/sides)
4. Superman. Lay with your chest flat on the ground, arms and legs stretched out. Lift both arms and both legs up off the ground, this time keeping your eyes down, so you do not hurt your neck. Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 3-5 times. (lower back)
5. Toe Touches. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and arms out in front of you. Slowly touch opposite hand to opposite foot, keeping your back flat, straight, and tight. Slowly come back up and switch sides. If you need to, sit on a bench or chair to perform this exercise. 1-2 sets of 5-10 each side (Lower Back)
These are just a few of the exercises we use on a regular basis to strengthen our clients’ core muscles. If at any point these exercises cause pain or discomfort, stop doing them. But, once you are able to master these, challenge yourself by adding light weights or medicine balls, or perform using a swiss ball. Or add them into an existing workout involving arms or legs. Or complete a set of each at the end of a run. Strengthening your core will greatly improve your health and well being.
You can be come a hard-core, fit mama, let us be there to help.