What should we be feeling as we tentatively return to some semblance of normal and bounce back from disruption? Once thing we can all be certain of is that our health is more important than ever.
As we strive to get our lives back on track, the best place to start in fitness is our core. Being centred, balanced, strong and focused within ourselves is the foundation from which we can grow both physically and mentally. So, let’s talk core.
The Anatomy of your core
When we think core, most of us picture Hollywood star abs and an unreasonable number of daily crunches. The truth is there is a whole clever network of core muscles in the mix.
- Transverse abdominis – The deepest layer of abdominal muscles that stabilises the spine and protects our organs
- Internal and external obliques – Double layered powerhouses that allow us to side bend and twist
- Rectus abdominis – Abs as we know them. They play a key role in curving and tilting your spine and pelvis.
- Pelvic floor muscles – Deep abdominal and back muscles that also support the diaphragm; our breathing muscle
- Erector spinae – A core muscle group that travels along the length of the spine and play a key role in keeping good posture
- Multifidus – Found underneath the erector spinae, these muscles are tasked with extending and rotating the spine
Giving attention to our whole core family is integral to our daily lives. We need to build enough core strength before we can effectively build strength elsewhere.
Why is core strength so important?
Your core is your body’s support system. From getting out of bed to sitting at the office desk, walking, and all sporting activities, we rely on our core all the time. Our core muscles completely surround and support our spine and pelvis, and connect our upper and lower body. That’s a pretty big job. While we’d all love six pack abs, be assured that you can build a rock-solid core without the external aesthetics. It’s the strength within that counts.
Key Benefits of a Strong Core
- Reduce Back Pain: According to the ABS, 16% of the Australian population suffer back problems and 70-90% of people will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives. If you’ve ever experienced lower back pain you know how debilitating it can be. Strengthening our core is one way we can improve our posture and support the spine and pelvis in their important job of keeping us upright and mobile.
- Prevent Injury: Our core muscles love to keep us safe from harm. Not only do they protect our internal organs, they also support and stabilise our spine during exercise or heavy lifting. When your core is in tip-top condition it will bear the load of strenuous activity and take the pressure off your back.
- Improve Balance and Posture: When the core muscles of the pelvis, lower back hips and abdomen are working in harmony, all joints are supported including your knees and ankles. A happy core has a flow on effect throughout our whole body, aiding balance and posture.
- Aid Proper Breathing: Our deep core muscles give support to the diaphragm – our breathing muscle. A strong core enables us to breathe deeply, sending oxygen to tired muscles and aiding recovery during training. This is really important for endurance and overall cardiovascular health.
- Gain Confidence and Increase Performance: When we’re strong in our core we just feel good! When we’re building on a strong foundation, we feel more confident to continue getting faster, stronger and enjoy regular sports and physical activity.
What are the Best Exercises for Core Strength?
It’s not all sit-up’s and crunches. Core strengthening exercises are most effective when the torso works as a solid unit with both front and back muscles activated in unison. There’s a range of exercises that effectively target the core, and many can be done at home with no equipment.
While it doesn’t look like much, planking is a super-effective core exercise. Side planking also works the obliques, which are often neglected during general ab exercises like crunches.
Form a V with your body by sitting with your legs extended and torso off the ground. V-sits get right in there to work the abs, internal and external obliques and hip flexors.
Lie face down on a mat with your legs straight and arms stretched out in front. Simultaneously raise your arms and legs 10-15cm from the floor and hold position for a few seconds then gently lower back to your starting position. This move strengthens the upper and lower back and also works your hamstrings and glutes.
Yoga and Pilates
Pilates requires a number of small repetitive movements focused on certain areas of the body. It’s incredibly effective for core strength, as well as muscle toning, body control and flex. Yoga works on strength and flexibility in your muscles and joints. Research also shows that 70% of people who practise Yoga or Pilates say that it also relieves stress. Winning!
Russian Twist with Medicine Ball
There are a bunch of great medicine ball exercises that will set your core on fire. The Russian twist involves holding the medicine ball in front of your chest. Lean back so your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor and your legs are raised so your body is forming a V. Brace your core and rotate your torso to the right and left without moving your legs. Feel the burn baby.
Straight Leg Raises
Lie flat on the floor with one knee bent and the other leg straight. Activate your abs and raise the straightened leg off the floor, no higher than your bent knee. Slowly lower your leg and repeat.
How do I Know These Core Exercises are Working?
The day after your workout you should experience DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness). This is totally normal particularly in strength training and if you’re starting or restarting an exercise regime. While sore muscles are uncomfortable, remember it’s a good thing! Keep up plenty of fluids, eat well, gently stretch…get your significant other to give you a massage if you need to; but whatever you do, don’t give up the exercise!
ifeelgood Hot Tips on Tackling the Core
The most important thing before any exercise is to warm up properly. Get the blood flowing to your muscles and loosen those joins in preparation for your workout. Combine light cardio with dynamic stretches to get your core temperature up and ready to go.
Be aware of your core during everyday life. Be conscious of how you’re sitting at your desk, or carrying yourself as you move around. Nothing is stopping you from activating that core! Keep practising and challenge yourself that little bit more each time you exercise, as your core strength improves you’ll feel the positive effect it has on all of your activities.
A strong core compliments absolutely everything that you do.