Despite what many people erroneously think, your core involves far more than just your abdominal muscles. This central part of the body also encompasses the muscles in your back and around the pelvic area. Being intentional about strengthening these muscles will help you to enjoy better posture, stability, and balance while also enhancing your overall fitness levels. Here are five of the best exercises to try to strengthen your core and improve your fitness.
This classic exercise is ideal for developing strong abdominal muscles. Start this move by laying flat on your back and bending the knees with your feet planted to align with the width of your hips. Cross your arms across your chest and slowly lift your upper body using smooth and controlled movements. By lifting your upper body off of the floor, you will build the ab muscles and strengthen your core in the process. For a more advanced move, you can try incorporating bicycle movements as you lift your body off the floor. This will keep your abs under constant tension, delivering even more benefits than a traditional crunch.
This full-body exercise is great for your entire body as well as the core muscles. Start the exercise on all fours with your hands placed below your shoulders and your knees located just below the hip muscles. As you straighten your legs behind you, begin to tighten your core and hold for 10-20 seconds. For a less challenging exercise, you can place your knees on the floor. Additionally, you can modify this exercise to provide a greater degree of difficulty by making it a side plank with rotation moves, as detailed below. It is important to keep your core muscles tight throughout all of the movements in order to see the benefits.
Sides bends are an ideal way to work the deep core muscles and the obliques. This exercise also works the arms and the back, making it a versatile move for a variety of purposes. Like many ab workouts, this move starts in a side plank and then graduates as you move your hip down toward the ground and lift it back up. It is important to engage your abs and your gluteal muscles throughout the movement.
Once you have mastered the plank, you can move on to the mountain climber. This move takes a basic plank and expands it by adding in knee movements. Not only will this advanced move build your core strength muscles, but it will also improve your balance. From a regular plank position, simply alternate lifting your knees to your chest, keep your hips down and your back straight throughout the movements. If you have difficulties performing the moves of this or any core exercises, you can ask a personal trainer or physical therapy expert for help.
Making the bird dog exercise part of your usual core routine will lead to better coordination, stability, and balance. Starting on all fours, place your hands directly under your shoulders with your knees below the hips. With a tightened core, lift and straighten one leg to hip level. At the same time that you are lifting your leg, extend the opposite arm to shoulder level with the palm facing downward. Alternate sides as you move through the reps.
This particular ab exercise really focuses on the lower abdominals and helps to give you that full six pack ab look. It defines the lower abdominals and also helps to build the muscles in your inner core. To do this exercise start by laying on your back. Your legs should be off the ground and start at about a 90 degree angle with your body, legs perpendicular to the floor. Keeping your lower back on the ground you slowly lower your legs as close to the ground as you can without touching the ground and then bring your legs back up. Make sure that through the entire movement your low back stays glued to the floor. If you want to make this exercise more advanced you can add a weight to your arms and as you lower your legs also lower your arms to the floor over your head and then bring them up together. This is a more advanced ab movement so if you’ve never done it before you will feel it the next day.
Get Assistance if You Need it
If you feel like you still need some help learning these exercises, then asking a physical therapist or personal trainer for advice is a great idea. They will be able to help you to find the right exercises for you in case you have any injuries you have to be careful of.
At Headquarters PT, a company that provides physical therapy in Portland they believe that rather than allowing their patients to be passive observers that allow therapy to be “done” to them they bring them in as part of the process by educating them along the way about pain, the rehab process, and healthy expectations along the way. They will give clarification on exercises and assistance to ensure that you are getting the most benefits out of your efforts.
A professional physical therapist will also be able to confirm that you are not making any back pain or discomfort worse by not performing your core exercises with the right form.
Reps and Sets
You do not have to be a workout warrior to perform these core exercises. Setting aside a few minutes each day to strengthen your core will deliver significant health and lifestyle benefits. Start each exercise with 8-10 reps per set and move up in the number of sets that you perform as your ability increases. A good number of sets to start with is 2-3 depending on your core strength. Be patient as you develop these muscles and understand that the movements may not feel natural when first starting out. Every move that you make throughout your day will become easier with a strong core, making these exercises well worth the investment of your time and effort.