We all dream of having those cheese grater abs you see Sylvester Stallone sporting whilst defeating Ivan Drago in his own back garden in Rocky 4, but there is so much more to your core than just washboard abdominals. Your core is one of your most important assets, whether you are throwing your favourite dance move at a wedding party, or simply going for a morning stroll, your core is essential in providing structure and balance to your body, helping to improve your posture and reduce the risk of back pain. There is a common misconception that the core muscles are just the abdominal muscles and back muscles, but the core muscles are all the muscles that attach to the spine of the body that we call the pillar. According to Sports MD, the core is composed of as many as 35 different muscle groups connecting into the pelvis from the spine and hip area, each originating from one of four regions: hip muscles, abdominals, back & lateral trunk muscles.
Bigger than you thought then? The good news is that you don’t need to be an elite athlete or even a member of a gym to start working on your core strength. We take a look at some of the best exercises you can start doing today that will help you get to that functional core you’ve always wanted!
According to Sports MD, the core is composed of as many as 35 different muscle groups connecting into the pelvis from the spine and hip area
The Plank is a well known bodyweight exercise that involves holding the trunk of your body off the ground in a horizontal position. It is an exercise that is performed statically (without movement) that engages your core and helps to strengthen many areas of your body including your shoulders, glutes and arms. Once in the plank position the goal is to hold yourself steady whilst maintaining your body position, which is easier said than done.
Tips for the perfect plank
- Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders with your forearms facing forward
- Engage your abdominal muscles, keep your torso straight & rigid with no sagging or bending to ensure a neutral spine position is maintained.
- Relax your head and look at the floor
- Once you start to fatigue you may start to arch your back with your hips sagging. At this stage rest and re-set.
The primary function of a reverse crunch is to engage your rectus abdominal muscles (abs) and hip flexors strengthen your core, whilst avoiding the unnecessary spinal pressure that a traditional ab crunch can cause. The reverse crunch involves lying on your back keeping your upper body flat to the floor as you contract your abs to draw your legs towards your chest. This exercise is for somebody of intermediate level who is seeking a variation from the more traditional sit up.
Top tip: Avoid using momentum or speed to bring your legs up towards your chest, rather than engaging your abs. If you are finding the slower pace too difficult it may be that you need further ab strengthening before progressing to this exercise.
Looking for something extra challenging? – Introduce a swiss ball to your routine and perform the reverse trunk in a press up position with your feet on the ball. This exercise requires fantastic balance and introduces upper body strength for a complete full body exercise. Be careful though, this one is definitely more challenging!
Your Gluteal muscles, often referred to as your ‘Glutes’ or ‘buttocks’ are made up of three muscles; The Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus. Strong buttocks are important for stabilization of the pelvis and hips, they are the muscles that propel us forward when walking & ensure alignment of our pelvis by preventing it from leaning forward or swaying backward. This alignment is vital in preventing other issues across the whole body.
To perform a Glute bridge successfully, lie on your back with your legs bent and drive your hips forward to the ceiling by contracting your bum muscles. Keep your heels pushed into the floor, avoid arching your back & perform the exercise in a slow, controlled manner to maximise the benefits.
Just starting out? – Try 3 sets of 12-15 reps as a starting point and seek to progress and improvise the exercise as your glute strength improves.
The superman hold is a static exercise that is designed to strengthen the trunk of your body with an emphasis on the erector spinae (lower back), Traps (upper back), Glutes and Hamstrings. You can obtain the position by lying on your stomach, ensure that your spine and neck are in a neutral position and extend both arms and legs off the ground as if you are superman flying through the air. You should seek to hold the position for a minimum of 20 seconds, progressively increasing as your core strength improves.
Feeling extra strong? – If you want to vary it up, the superman hold can be performed by only raising one leg and one arm on the same side of your body, this will highlight imbalances that you may have in your core muscles.
If you’re looking for an exercise to strengthen your oblique muscles then look no further than the side plank. Once you begin holding the pose for a few seconds you will soon realise that you have been neglecting your oblique muscles. Side planks are a unilateral exercise, which means that you will exercise each side of your body individually, yet you will still be supporting the entirety of your physique. To complete a side plank, start on your side with one forearm directly underneath your shoulder with your feet together, raise your hips so your body is in a straight line from feet to head & contract your core to hold the position. Then repeat on the other side. You should aim to hold the position for as long as possible working your way towards a minute (and beyond).
Fancy something harder? – Try raising an arm and a leg to test your balance and work your muscles even harder. Just make sure you don’t let your hips sag.
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