Happy Friday, everyone! Today’s workout is a short but complete core sequence you can add to the end of just about any workout or do on it’s own a couple of times a week.
When people think about their core, they often concern themselves only with their abs but, in fact, the core is comprised of all the stabilizing muscles of the trunk. The lower and mid-back muscles, all four abdominal muscle groups and a host of hip and butt muscles make up the true core. Wile it’s true that weak abdominal muscles can be a common cause of low back pain, it’s also true that overtraining your abs and ignoring the rest of your core can, too. With that in mind, here are four core exercises that hit all the major players.
1. Plank With Movement – Regular planks are a good place to start, but once you can hold a plank with perfect form for 30 seconds, it’s time to move on. Those plank competitions in your group fitness class – two and three and seven minute planks – turns out, they are a waste of time. Much more effective is adding some movement to your planks. Step your feet out to the sides a few inches and back in; walk your hands forward and back a few inches, or – one of my favorites – put a piece of cloth under your toes and walk yourself across the room moving only your hands (this only works on wood floors or other surfaces that will allow you to slide). Adding these kinds of movements to your plank calls many more stabilizer muscles into play, including most of the ones in your lower and mid-back and a few in your hips and glutes. Do this exercise for 20 to 30 seconds.
2. Wood Chops – I do these using a medicine ball, but you could grip a light dumbbell in both hands or use a pulley cable at the gym as well. The idea here is to move the weight across your body while maintaining stability in the core and keeping your postural alignment consistent throughout. Don’t let all the work fall to your arms for this one. Instead, think of them acting as levers while you engage your core muscles and initiate the movement from there. Here’s a link with instructions and photos. Do eight to 15 reps on each side.
3. Swimmers – Great for strengthening your lower and mid back as well as your glutes, this exercise seems easy, but it requires attention to detail. Lie on a mat on your stomach with your arms stretched out overhead. Slowly raise your right arm and your left leg about four to six inches off the floor, then lower them as you raise your left arm and right leg. Continue moving slowly in this “swimming” fashion for about 20 reps. The key to this exercise is to go slowly and to be sure you don’t rotate your hips outward as you lift your legs. Keep your toes pointed down at the floor. Likewise, don’t let your arms drift out away from the midline of your body. If this tendency is natural (in either the arms or the legs, or both), then don’t lift them as far off the ground. It’s a sign that you are overly tight in the hips and/or shoulders, and weak in the back and glutes. You should see improvement over time if you keep up with this routine.
4. Skaters -Here’s an exercise than not only works the hip complex, but targets many little-used muscles of the leg as well. From a standing position, hop sideways about two feet to your right while simultaneously lifting your left foot off the floor. Then repeat the motion to your left. Continue in this manner, bounding from side to side for a total of 30 seconds. You should land softly onto each foot, keeping a slight bend in the knee. If hopping puts too much strain on your knees, ankles or hips, simply step from side to side or, if you have a hard, slick surface available, you can slide from side to side in your stocking feet in true skater fashion (be careful not to slip!) Pushing off powerfully and generating the movement from the hip as you change direction each time will really work the target muscle groups.
Complete this circuit one to three times, and aim to work it into your exercise regimen two or three times per week.