When we think of our 'core' we generally think of 'abs' or our abdominals. The truth is, our core is actually composed of several different muscles and is shaped like a cylinder (think of a can of soup).
The top of the can is our diaphragm that helps us with breathing (don't forget to check out our post on diaphragmatic breathing), the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques) at the front, back muscles (multifidi) at the back, and pelvic floor muscles at the bottom. These muscles should all be strong, but more importantly, they need to be coordinated. Their coordination is what helps to support you during movements as simple as getting out of bed to lifting, running, and exercise, and everything in between. Core weakness can contribute to low back pain, hip pain, knee and ankle pain, even mid-back and neck pain. Really, everyone can benefit from core strengthening.
When we think of training our core, we tend to think of sit ups. This is not the most ideal way to train the core as a whole due to the repetitive bending of your spine and its lack of training the other core muscles. Here is a simple progression of some of our favorite core exercises:
Back to the basics - a core isometric exercise! You’ll contract your core muscles and hold them in that position without moving your body.
Lying on your back with your knees bent
Place your fingertips about an inch in from your hip bones, below your belly button
Tighten your stomach muscles as if you’re gently bringing your belly button toward your spine - do NOT hold your breath! You should be able to maintain comfortable breathing.
You should feel your muscles tense and flatten under your fingertips
Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times
2. Add in movement! Maintain that same core contraction, now let’s move.
Same position as exercise (1)
Once you’ve tightened your abdominals, march your legs
Go slow! Repeat for 10 times on each side, alternating legs
3. Let’s bring it up!
Hands and knees position
Same core contraction as exercise (1)
Be sure your spine stays nice and still, like you could keep a glass of water steady on it
Reach your opposite arm and leg out as long as you can while keeping your core engaged
Alternate to the other side
If this is to difficult, do each arm and leg one at a time
Don’t forget to keep breathing!
Repeat 10 times on each side
4. Good ol’ plank
On either hands or forearms, toes or knees
Same as exercise (3), the spine should stay nice and still
Maintain this position with your core engaged and steady breathing
Hold for time! Start with 10 seconds, and increase time as able -- up to 8 hours like George Hood, who holds the record for the world’s longest plank.
There are many, many valuable core exercises; we are only skimming the surface here. This is a great way to lay a solid foundation to build upon. Once you have mastered one, you can move to the next. In reality, think of keeping your core engaged during your daily activities like stopping at a traffic light, rolling to get out of bed, or picking up your keys that fell on the floor.
Stay well, don’t forget to stretch, and make time for yourself to be active. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at BHPT. We’re here for you.