Your core is the central link between the rest of your body, and core strength is essential to good posture and a healthy, strong body! Your core is so much more than just your “abs” (six-pack that most people think of when they hear core). Think of your core as layers of muscles that wrap around your midsection, including your transverse abdominis (deep layer around spine), your obliques (sides of your core), your rectus abdominis (six-pack), as well as muscles on your back like your multifidus (deep and extends all the way up your spine), your erector spinae (along your back on each side of your spine), and your quadratus lumborum (deep muscle in your back connecting your spine to your pelvis).
Core strength is required for almost all movements, because when you move your upper or lower body, your core stabilizes you. When you’re walking, your core stabilizes your moving leg and the rest of your body, keeping you balanced. Strong cores stabilize your spine and back to help prevent back injuries when you’re lifting or moving things, and allows your posture stay upright and help avoid strain on your lower back or neck.
So what now? Crunches? Although crunches are good, there are lots of more effective core exercises to do (you can still do your crunches along with them!) Prioritize exercises that will target lots of core muscles. Here’s a few exercises to try:
1. Planks – Keep your body in a straight line and tighten your abs, keeping your back high (no sagging hips or sagging back between shoulder blades!), and keep your elbows from locking for maximum benefit! This will work all of the core muscles mentioned as well as your arms and legs. Start with a short amount of time (like 20 second holds, 3 times), and then challenge yourself with longer hold times or by lifting up one limb during your plank to make your core work harder to stabilize you.
2. Bird-dogs (also known as quadrupeds) – Start on your hands and knees, and slowly raise your right arm and left leg, keeping your abs tight. Return to starting position, then alternate to left arm and right leg. Do 2-3 sets of 10. If this is too challenging, start with just raising one arm or one leg at a time. These are great for your core and your back!
3. Dead-Bugs – Dead bugs are similar to bird dogs but lying on your back. Start with all 4 limbs in the air, then (while keeping your back pressed against the floor), lower one arm and one leg. Try doing 10 reps lowering your right arm and leg, then left. Then try 10 more of opposite arm and leg.
4. Wood-chops – If you have access to an exercise band or cable machine, wood-chops are a great exercise to tone your core because of the twisting motion. Tie your band to something high, like the top of a door (or set your cable machine high). Stand a few feet away from the door turned 90 degrees (perpendicular to door). Hold the band with both hands, and then rotate from high right (close to door) to low left (away from door), turning through your whole body, especially your core. Do 2-3 sets up 10 wood-chops on both sides. *If you don't have access to a cable machine, use a medicine ball, weight, or object between 5 and 20 lb and perform this same motion!
5. Swimmers– Lie face-down on the floor, with your arms overhead and legs extended. Lift all 4 limbs up a few inches of the ground and, alternating sides (as if swimming), tap your hands and legs down to the ground. Start with 15-20 seconds and work your way up in time!
Crunches and other exercises targeted for the abs are also good, but make sure you’re doing some of these total-core exercises along with them though! Also incorporate upper body and lower body exercise into your routine, for a strong healthy body! If you have any questions about core exercises, or if you deal with pain that prevents you from exercising, call or email us! 616-662-0990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Lisa Bartz, C-EP
Steve Bartz, PT