The Case for Core
Abdominal training and core training have become synonymous in recent years, and many people mistakenly believe that training their superficial abdominal muscles mean that they are training their core.
In fact, the abdominal muscles have very limited and specific action, and are over-rated when it comes to real core conditioning and strength. While the superficial abdominal muscles will give you those 6 pack abs, it is the deep core that is important for a strong trunk.
So, what does the core consist of then?
Your core is made up of deep core and superficial core muscles, and consist mainly of muscles in your lower back, hips, glutes and abs.
Core Muscles and their main function
|Multifidus||Located under the erector spinae along the vertebral column, these muscles extend and rotate the spine|
|Transverse Abdominus||Compresses abdomen, forces expiration and pulls abdominal wall inward|
|Rectus Abdominus||Flexes the spine and compresses abdomen|
|Erector Spinae||Extension and flexion of the vertebral column|
|External Obliques||Flexion and rotation of the spine, compresses abdomen|
|Internal Obliques||Acts as stabiliser, assist with flexion and rotation of spine, abdomen compression|
|Hip Flexors||Hip flexion|
|-Psoas Major||Spine flexion|
|-Rectus Femoris||Assists with hip joint flexion|
|-Pectineus||Hip flexion and adduction, internal hip rotation|
|Gluteus Medius and Minimus||Hip abduction and medial rotation|
|Gluteus Maximus, Hamstring group, Piriformis||Hip extension and lateral rotation|
|Hip Adductors||Hip flexion and adduction|
The Importance of Core Training
The overall importance of core training is related to four key factors: posture, power, agility and stability. By strengthening core muscles, you will improve your overall posture and stability, and strengthen your lower back, which will help reduce and prevent lower back pain.
A strong core is absolutely necessary if you want a strong body overall. Without the strength of your core, your limbs (kegs and arms) can not get strong.
Core Strength vs. Core Stability
Core strength is the trunk’s ability to move or support a load. Core stability is the ability to stay strong and unyielding, while the limbs are moving around it, loaded or not.
Benefits of Core Fitness
- Improved sports performance
- Reduced risk of injury
- More functional workouts that translate into daily life activities
- Better ability to function
So, how do I train my Core?
It is important to understand the basics and know-how to train your core properly in order to create a workout routine that suits your fitness goals, and does not cause any injuries or health problems.
Static and dynamic floor exercise will develop your abdominal and lower back muscles. The following 8 exercises will set you on the path to a better core. Aim for at least 2 workouts a week, doing 10-12 reps and 2-3 sets each.
- Basic Plank
Begin with your forearms and toes on the floor.
Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending.
Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
Hold this position for 10 seconds to start.
Over time work up to 30, 45 or 60 seconds.
- Side Plank
Lay on your side.
Position your elbow on the floor just under your shoulder.
Lift up on that elbow and keep your body stiff from head to toe.
Hold this position for a count of 10 and lower your hip to the floor.
Rest and repeat three times.
Switch sides and repeat the exercise on the other hip.
You can increase the effect of this exercise by lifting the top leg up toward the ceiling. Repeat the leg lift10 times slowly and return to the start position.
You can do these exercises on a hand rather than an elbow.
On the floor, position your hands slightly wider than your shoulders.
Raise up onto your toes so you are balanced on your hands and toes.
Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe without sagging in the middle or arching your back.
Your feet can be close together or a bit wider depending upon what is most comfortable for you.
Before you begin any movement, contract your abs and tighten your core by pulling your belly button toward your spine.
Keep a tight core throughout the entire push up.
Begin in a seated position, contract your abs and core, and lift your legs up to a 45-degree angle.
Reach your arms straight forward or reach up toward your shins as you are able.
Maintain good posture and a strong spine.
Hold this “V” position for several seconds to begin. As you get stronger, hold the position longer.
Return to your starting position slowly.
Just before you reach the floor, stop and hold the position for a few seconds.
Repeat for as many reps desired.
Lay on your back with your hands by your sides, your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
Make sure your feet are under your knees.
Tighten your abdominals and glutes.
Raise your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders.
Squeeze your core and try to pull your belly button back toward your spine.
If your hips sag or drop, lower yourself back on the floor.
The goal is to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your knees and hold for 20 to 30 seconds. You may need to begin by holding the bridge position for a few seconds as you build your strength. It’s better to hold the correct position for a shorter time than to go longer in the incorrect position.
Use a Squat Rack
Using a squat rack improves the safety of the squat exercise. It has a full cage to catch the bar if you are unable to stand back up. Put the safety catch pins low enough so you can perform the full squat but high enough that they will prevent a total collapse of the weight onto your body should you miss the lift.
Place your hands evenly on the bar to keep the bar in balance once you move out of the rack. Grip the bar with a closed grip until you are familiar enough with the holding of the bar to go to the open grip.
With your hands in the right position you should be looking directly at the middle of the bar. Duck under the bar keeping your hands in place.
There are two common positions for bar placement.
The high bar: The bar rests on the top of the posterior deltoids at the base of the neck; hands just wider than shoulder width.
The low bar: The bar rests at the lower portion of the junction of the trapezius and posterior deltoid region; hands a little wider than shoulder width. This position takes longer to learn but is well worth it in the end as it provides an excellent shelf; to hold the bar and it shortens the movement arm of the lift. Both helps with a higher load on the bar.
Looking up at about a ten to twenty degree angle in front of you of will keep your head in the correct alignment for the lift to safely continue.
Hold your back in a neutral to slightly arched manner. Avoid rounding in the lower back.
The Lift Movement – Stepping Out
Lift the bar off the hooks with your legs and not by extending your back. Take one small step backward followed by a second small step with the other foot. Align your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart.
The Lift Movement – The Descent
With your feet evenly spaced, take a deep breath. The descent begins with your hips moving backward, and not with your knees bending. Unhinging at the hips allows the body to drop down while still keeping the lower legs in an upright aspect relationship to the floor. It also brings into play the powerful hip flexors and extensors during the movement. You now have effective synergistic muscle activity to complete the exercise.
Practice this by standing in a doorway and holding onto the doorway with both hands. Step back one foot length away from the doorway while still holding on. Lean back onto your feet, now drop your buttocks down to the floor. If you let loose of the door, you will fall backward, but notice that your lower legs are nearly vertical in relation to the floor. This is the ideal squat position at the bottom.
The Lift Movement – The Bottom
Once at the bottom of the lift, begin moving upwards by first pushing up on the bar with your hands while at the same time extending out your chest and head. Doing this counteracts the momentum of the bar as you approached the bottom of the lift.
The Lift Movement – The Ascent
The bar is now moving and you want to keep the weight centered over the middle to back part of the foot, not on your toes. Accelerate the bar throughout the lift until you reach a point where it has to be stopped, i.e. near the end at the top. Maintain control of the bar at all times.
Return to the Rack
Take the two to three small steps back into bar hooks. Make certain you place the bar into the hooks before letting go.
- Hip Lifts
Begin by lying on your back with your arms by your sides, palms facing up. Raise your legs so they are straight up toward the ceiling and perpendicular to your torso.
Pull your navel toward your spine and lift your hips a few inches off the floor, keeping your legs pointed straight up. Then slowly lower your hips back to the floor.
- Oblique (Russian)Twists
Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor (easier) or raised up off the floor (more difficult).
Contract your abs and sit at about a 45 degrees angle.
Hold the medicine ball with both hands directly in front of you.
Contracting your abs, twist slowly from your torso to your right and touch the medicine ball to the floor beside you.
Quickly, but smoothly, contract your abs and twist your torso and touch the medicine ball to the other side.
Repeat for the desired number of reps.
- Swiss Ball Planks
Start by getting into plank position with your forearms on the balance ball and your toes on the floor
Keep your abs contracted and your back straight– you should form a straight line from your head to your toes.
Hold this position for as long as you can, without sagging or arching at your hips.
To increase the difficulty, keep feet close together or lift one foot off the floor.
To decrease the difficulty, spread your feet wide apart for a larger base of support.
- Twisting lunges
Stand with feet about shoulder width apart.
Hold a medicine ball in front of you with elbows bent about 90 degrees. You may want to begin this exercise with no weight and build up your strength over time.
Step forward with your left foot into a lunge position.
Be sure to keep your knee over your left foot; don’t twist at the knee.
From your torso, twist your upper body to the left. Then, reach across your left side with your arms out-stretched.
Maintain a slow and controlled movement throughout the exercise.
Slowly move your arms to center and step forward with the opposite foot and twist to the other side.
Lie face down on a mat with your arms stretched above your head (like superman)
Raise your right arm and left leg about 5-6 inches off the ground (or as far as you comfortably can).
Hold for 3 seconds and relax.
Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
Let us know how these exercises have helped you increase core stability and strength!
By Letitia Kleynhans