Tip of the Week
In the past few years the terms Core Conditioning and Abdominal Conditioning have been used interchangeably, but referring to the abdominal muscles alone in terms of real core strengthening is both incorrect and misleading.
In truth, your "core" actually consists of several different muscles that stabilize your spine, pelvis and shoulders and run the entire length of your torso. These muscles also provide a solid foundation for movement in your arms and legs. Core strengthening exercise programs must target all these muscle groups in order to be truly effective. Your core muscles allow you to stand upright and move on two feet, they help control movement, transfer energy from the center of your body to your arms and legs, shift body weight and move in any direction. Strong and conditioned core muscles distribute the stress of weight-bearing and protect your back. Often, a weak and unbalanced core is linked to low back pain, poor athletic performance and injuries. Strong and balanced core muscles help maintain appropriate posture and reduce strain on the spine.
Your Core muscles are:
- Rectus Abdominis - the most well-known abdominal muscle and is often referred to as the "six-pack."
- Erector Spinae - these muscles run from your neck to your lower back.
- Multifidus – it is under the Erector Spinae along your spine. These muscles extend and rotate your spine.
- External Obliques - on the side of your Rectus Abdominis.
- Internal Obliques - under the External Obliques, running in the opposite direction.
- Transversus Abdominis (TVA) - located under the Obliques, it is the deepest of the abdominal muscles (muscles of your waist) and wraps around your spine for protection and stability.
- Hip Flexors - located in front of the pelvis and upper thigh.
- Gluteus maximus, Gluteus medius and minimus – your buttocks
- Hamstrings and, piriformis - located in the back of the hip and upper thigh leg.
- Hip adductors –your inner thighs.
Core strengthening exercises are most effective when the torso works as a solid unit and both front and back muscles contract at the same time, multi joint movements are performed and stabilization of the spine is achieved. While there are many different forms of equipment available for core conditioning both for home use and at your health club (bands, wobble boards, Bosu ® etc…), no-equipment-body weight exercises are also very effective for developing core strength and they are utilized by both coaches and trainers with excellent results. You can try a combination of the following exercises:
Abdominal Bracing: More than a traditional exercise this is the correct and more appropriate postural way to control your own core both while exercising and during your activities of daily living. It is also the main technique used during core exercise training. It is the deep contraction of your abdominal muscles. While standing up, feet shoulder width apart, you should focus on the area of your body situated between just below your chest and your hip line, both front and back. Think of it as a natural girdle that runs around your body and holds you upright. Pull your navel back in toward your spine and hold. This action recruits your Transversus Abdominis (TVA). Do not hold your breath while bracing—you should continue to breathe naturally and deeply. Initially, practice holding the bracing position for 30 seconds, rest and repeat 5 times. Progressively increase the length of the exercise and focus on holding such position while exercising, running and during your regular, non-fitness daily activities.
The Back Bridge: To isolate and strengthen the gluteus (butt) muscles and hamstrings (back of the upper leg). It is a good core exercise that strengthens both the abdominal muscles as well as the lower back muscles.
Lay on your back with your hands by your sides, your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, feet are under your knees. Tighten your abdominal and buttock muscles. Raise your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders. Squeeze your core and try to pull your belly button back toward your spine. If your hips sag or drop, lower yourself back on the floor, then reposition yourself correctly. The goal is to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your knees and hold for 30 seconds. You may need to begin by holding the bridge position for a few seconds as you build your strength. It's better to hold the correct position for a shorter time than to go longer in the incorrect position. Repeat 3 sets of 30 seconds each. Progressively increase the length of the exercise and repeat 5 times.
Once the basic Back Bridge exercise becomes too easy you can move on to the One-leg Bridge.
The Side Plank Exercise: Weak hips may be one of the causes of knee pain and lower leg injuries. The side plank exercise is aimed to increase hip strength and stability. Begin by lying on your side on the floor. Position your elbow on the floor just under your shoulder. Lift up on that elbow and keep your body stiff from head to toe. Hold this position for a count of 15 seconds and lower your hip to the floor. Rest and repeat 3 times. Switch sides and repeat the exercise on the other hip. Increase the duration of the exercise over time up to 1 minute.
Other exercises that develop core strength include exercises on a stability ball, work with medicine balls, wobble boards, Pilates, and Yoga.