Core muscle strengthening is a big business, especially for those who suffer from lower back pain.
Having a strong core also helps prevent injuries and will help keep you strong in your lifts with good form and posture.
What is the core?
Abs are usually the first thing people think of when ‘core’ is mentioned. The Abs are definitely an important part of the core – but they are not the only muscle that it is composed of.
The actual core consists of 3 muscles – on the front, side, and back of your body.
✓ Rectus Abdominus (Abs) –
✓ External Oblique
✓ Erector Spinae
These muscles need to be strengthened and tightened up to create a conditioned, firm core.
The core function is to stabilise the spine – hence why core strength and control is essential for maximum performance!
Rectus Abdominus (Abs)
The main function of the abs is to allow the spine to be as flexible as it is.
Note: If your goal is to achieve abs, your body fat levels need to be low (the specific amount significantly varies from individual to individual). Therefore it’s very important to maintain good nutrition. Read more here.
These: rotate the spine; laterally flexes the spine; and similar to the abs, the obliques flex the spine too.
This muscle group helps with extension of the spine.
Try including some of these exercises to help you build a stronger core – these are not limited, as you can also strengthen your core by performing other exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, pull ups and many others!
7 Core Exercises
#1 Back twist
Begin this exercise lying on the ground on your back with your right side at a wall. Straighten the legs and keep them this way throughout the exercise. Keep the legs together and position them slightly towards your right side.
Rotate your right leg inwards as far as is comfortable. Hold this position for five seconds and repeat six to eight times on each side, pausing for a few seconds between sets.
✓ To make this more difficult, aim to increase the amount of rotation you do with each set.
#2 Trunk rotation
Begin by sitting on the floor with your legs flat in front of you. Keeping your back straight, cross your arms across your chest and rotate your trunk to a 45 degree angle to the left. You will feel the abs tightening on this side. Hold this position for five seconds.
To make this exercise more difficult, ask a friend to gently push back your shoulder towards the starting position, this will add some resistance to the exercise.
✓ Repeat this five times on each side and rest in between sets. Build on the amount of rotation you do on each set.
#3 The Side Plank
Begin this exercise lying on your side, with your feet slightly staggered. Lean on your forearm and keep the elbow on the ground.
Lift the hips from the floor and allow the legs to follow. Keep the torso still. Hold this position for ten seconds and then swap sides.
✓ Repeat for an equal number of times on each side. Build up to holding this position longer.
#4 Band Brace
Wrap a resistance band securely around a pillar or even a bar in a squat rack. You can also ask a friend to hold the band.
Begin by gripping the band tightly in your left hand then place your right hand over it to secure your grip further.
Stretch the band so that your hands are straight in front of you.
✓ Hold this position for thirty seconds and then release before doing the same on the opposite side.
#5 Arm & Leg Raises
Begin in a kneeling position on all fours on the floor. Slowly lift one arm straight in front of you and the opposite leg before returning to the starting position with controlled movements.
Breathe normally and keep your spine still throughout the exercise. Alternate this movement with the opposite arm and leg.
✓ Repeat for ten reps on each side for three sets.
#6 The Plank
Begin in a push up position with the arms shoulder width apart.
Squeeze all the muscles tightly and breathe normally while holding this position for ten seconds.
✓ As your strength increases, you can hold this position for a longer period of time.
#7 Foot lift
Begin by lying on the ground looking at the ceiling. Bend your knees so that there is a slight gap between the hollow in your back and the ground.
Breathe in, contract your core muscles and as you breathe out lift one foot a few inches off the ground, maintaining the bend in your knee. Breathe in and return your foot to the ground.
✓ Repeat on the opposite leg for the same amount of repetitions.
Take Home Message
Putting a bit of extra time into strengthening your core is well worth the effort as it will help you to prevent injuries and perform better at the gym.
Try adding some of these exercises to your workout to strengthen your core. Do remember: to achieve abs, (visible abdominals) it’s all about the nutrition!