In my previous article i talked about how the popular abs exercises, the sit up and crunch, are in no way the best exercises for your core, quite the opposite actually. In this piece i am going to go over a few basic exercises that will help improve your core stability which can greatly reduce the risk of back injuries, improve posture and improve every area of your training. Think of the core muscles as the foundations of a house. No matter how strong the bricks of the house are, no matter how solid the frame is. If the foundations are not strong, then the house is likely to collapse. The same is true for the core muscles of the body, if they are not strong then there is much greater risk of injury, especially to the back.
The first thing that everyone should learn before starting any type of core stability training is abdominal bracing. This is activating your abdominal muscles deep within the core such as the transverse abdominals, internal oblique’s, multifidus, pelvic floor and the diaphragm. These muscles are collectively known as the inner units of the core, and there purpose is to support the spine. You often see people in the gym wearing a weightlifting belt while squatting etc. People do this to help support their spines under large amounts of pressure. If you’re inner unit muscles are strong, there is no need for a weightlifting belt as you already have a belt inside your core. The inner unit muscles will contract and secure around the spine, giving it all the support it needs. That is essentially why core stability training is so fundamental to everyone, to support the spine.
To initiate the transverse contraction, begin by drawing your navel (bellybutton) inwards, towards your spine. Like you would trying to squeeze into a pair of jeans. As you do this engage the pelvic floor muscles by pulling in and tightening. Aim to contract the muscles of the anus and then initiate contraction of other muscles around the vagina or penis, much like you would to stop yourself from urinating. Hold that contraction and maintain normal breathing pattern.
While doing this you can press your fingers just above the hips with fingers tips about 5cm away from the navel on each side. When you contract all the muscle in the above process you should be able to feel the inner muscles contracting.
While doing any type of core stability exercise, it is essential that you have this contraction throughout the movement, to ensure you are working the inner muscles rather than the bigger outer muscles such as the rectus abdominus and the illiopsois.
Start by lying face down on the ground or use an exercise mat . Place your elbows and forearms underneath your chest.
Prop yourself up to form a bridge using your toes and forearms
Maintain a flat back and do not allow your hips to sag towards the ground.
The Core – Abdominals, Hips, Back
Hold this position *focusing on tightening your abs* until you can no longer maintain a flat bridge. For beginners, start with 10 seconds
Return to start position.
The Russian Twist
Preparation: Start out sitting on the floor, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Hold the core ball at chest level, elbows out and shoulders down. The core ball is similar to a medicine ball (weighted ball), except it has handles on either side of the ball for functional uses. Make sure the chest is up and back is straight.
Breathing: Breath out on the contraction of the muscle and breath back in on the way back to the start position.
Execution: Begin by rotating to one side and then directly to the other. Do not stop in the centre. Make sure that you rotate at the trunk, keeping the ball in front of the chest at all times. Rotate slow and continuously. If at any time the lower back begins to hurt, stop and readjust the position, keeping your chest out.
Align feet under knees close to hips.
Drive hips up until you have a straight line from your knees to shoulders.
Keep weight on shoulders & off neck.
If you can’t keep a straight line then your core is weak and you won’t be able to do 5-30 seconds. Try just lifting into the bridge long enough to stabilize in a good straight posture then go down and rest. Come back up and bridge again when you are safely able. The stronger you get, the longer and better you will be able to bridge.
Option: To increase challenge extend one leg. ONLY extend leg if you can maintain bridge with hips elevated. If your hips drop as soon as you extend one leg then you are not ready and need to bridge with BOTH feet on the ground.
Draw navel into spine then brace core.
Keep a straight line posture as you hold the bridge.
Doing these exercises two to three times a week will greatly improve your core stability. The plank should be held two to three times for maximum time. The russian twists should be performed doing two to three sets of 15 reps and the supine bridge should be help for two to three times for maximum able time.