“Engaging your core” is a favourite phrase of fitness professionals.
But where are your core muscles, why should you strengthen them and how can you activate them?
Five reasons to strengthen your core
Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work together. By doing this you will:
- Develop better balance and stability; which in turn will help prevent injury – either from sports or everyday household tasks or DIY.
- Prevent, help and correct lower back pain.
- Create a better posture: especially if you spend hours a day sitting at a desk; some of your core muscles will “switch off”. By engaging them regularly you will reduce this.
- Improve your sports performance – whether you are a runner, a rower, a cyclist, a tennis player or a golfer – building a strong core will benefit your sport.
- Look great!
Here are our top five core exercises:
The staple diet of a gymnast this isometric (holding still) exercise is one of the foundations of many an athlete’s core training.
What’s great about this exercise is that it builds abdominal posterior pelvic tilting strength and endurance.
- Lie on your back with the arms and legs in the air and the knees bent. Flatten out the lumbar spine so there’s no gap between the floor and the low back. The upper torso will crunch upward slightly, but you’re not actively trying to do this – it’s a result of the flattening of the lumbar spine.
- Gradually lower the arms and feet toward the floor while maintaining the ‘flat back’.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds initially and continue to push the low back into the floor throughout the duration of the set.
- With practice see how long you can build up to.
- Lie on your back and find something sturdy to hold on to. (This exercise can also be performed on a flat bench).
- To start, bend your knees and kick your legs up towards the ceiling.
- From here, the objective is to lower your entire body in a straight line, then slowly return to the start position keeping the body in a straight.
- The aim is to keep your body straight, so do your best to avoid bending at the hips.
- This is a very tough exercise and to start with don’t come too low as this could cause lower back pain. Your abs will have to provide extreme stabilization to do this exercise well.
- To maintain good form (straight body) you will also need to engage your lower back, glutes, and other core muscles.
Plank Push Ups
The core workout of a plank, with the added arm, shoulder and back workout of a push–up.
- Lead with your left arm for 8 reps then change and lead with the right.
- Keep the bum down and abs tight.
- Rock as little as possible.
Swissball Ab Rollouts
Stability Ball Ab Rollout is an exercise that strengthens the core, shoulders and upper back muscles by using a stability ball.
This move is a version of a plank, except that instead of putting your arms or hands on the floor you use the ball. This adds the element of instability which means more muscles are engaged overall. It also adds some movement which increases the intensity even more
- Start with your elbows under your shoulders, feet wide for stability.
- As you breathe out, slowly roll your arms forward whilst keeping the rest of the body as still as possible.
- Without lifting the glutes, bring your arms back to just before the starting position (in order to maintain tension don’t go right back to the start).
- Repeat 10 times.
- If you feel your lower back, don’t roll out, just hold the plank on the ball to build up strength.
You may well have performed the plank hold before. It is a popular core exercise.
Give this version a go if you want an extra challenge.
- Start in the plank position with your elbows under your shoulders.
- Engage the core then lift your left arm a few inches off the floor aiming to keep the body as still as possible.
- Change hands after 15 seconds. Proceed to lift each leg for 15 seconds to complete the minute.