Much of the buzz in fitness these days centers around your “core” and having a strong one. Many people I come across think “core strength” means just ab strength or having a 6 pack. But the truth of the matter is having a strong core is more than just abs or having a 6 pack. In fact, many people with the strongest core don’t have 6 packs.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR CORE AND WHAT IT IS
When fitness professionals talk about core strength, it includes more than just your stomach muscles. It includes everything from your hips to your shoulder blades, and everything in between. This encompasses the front, back, and sides of your torso. You may hear some fitness experts refer to it as your “pillar.” So the next time you think of core strength, remember that a balanced routine should include exercises for your shoulder blades, lower back, obliques, stomach, and hips; much much more than just doing crunches.
6 EASY EXERCISES FOR A STRONG CORE
- Plank: Perhaps the best core stability exercise, the plank. This exercise encompasses all the muscles of the front of your torso, shoulder stabilizers, and hip flexors. To set up, lay flat on your stomach with elbows bent underneath your shoulders and toes pulled up towards your shins as far as you can. Maintaining a neutral curve in your spine, push your hips up off of the ground, leaving your elbows down, and hold. Your body should maintain a straight line as your hips come up. Think of balancing a tennis ball between your shoulder blades. If this is too hard, leave your knees on the ground as you push up. The main focus for this exercise is to maintain a neutral spine and straight body lines. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
2. Side Plank: Similar to the plank, the side plank helps to build stability through the olbiques, hips, and shoulder. Start lying on your side, with the feet stacked on top of each other. Place your elbow underneath your shoulder with your hand flat on the ground in front of you. From here, raise your hips into the air, forming a straight line with your body and hold for 30 seconds each side.
3. Glute Bridge or Hip Bridge: This exercise focuses on the muscles of the posterior chain, or back. In this exercise, you will work the hamstrings, glutes, and some lower back. Start lying flat on your back, and place your feet flat on the ground with your heels as close to your butt as you can. From there, keeping a neutral curve in the spine, push your hips into the air by driving through your heels. The key to this exercise is to maintain a natural curve in the spine, and not push your stomach too far towards the ceiling, causing stress on your lower back. Hold the up position for 1 minute.
4. BirdDog: The goal for this exercise is to work the stabilizers of the stomach, obliques, hips, and shoulders. Starting on your hands and knees, line up your hands underneath your shoulders, and knees underneath your hips. Trying to think of that tennis ball balancing between your shoulder blades, extend one arm and the opposite leg as far as you can and pause. Return to start and repeat with the opposite side, always moving opposite arm and leg together. For example, your right arm and left leg would move, then repeat with your leg arm and right leg. Repeat the exercise for 15 repetitions each side
5. Russian Twist: This exercise is great for the obliques, lower back, and hip flexors. Start in a seated position, with your knees bent in front of you and heels on the ground. Staying as tall through the spine as possible, lean your torso back slightly. While maintaining a slight lean back, rotate the shoulders one way and then the other. Continue to rotate back and forth at a controlled pace for 15 reps each side, maintaining the lean back and straight spine the entire time.
6. Seated Leg Lift: This exercise targets the muscles of the hip and lower abs. It may look easy, but it is far from it if done correctly. Start in a seated position with your legs straight in front of you. Hands will be on the ground just outside your pockets, while sitting up as straight as possible. Leaving one leg down and both legs as straight as possible, lift the other leg as high as you can, maintaining an upright posture. Return the leg to the ground, and repeat with the other leg. Repeat this exercise 15 times with each leg.
These 6 exercises are sure to give you a strong core and better stability throughout the torso. Start to work them into your workout routine, performing them on every other day to allow yourself to recover. Feel free to adjust the repetitions as needed to make it harder or easier. Happy stabilizing!
Patrick Scott, MS, CSCS
Sports and Fitness Director