Your core is key to a healthy, stable body. Your arms and legs do a lot of work throughout the day, but they won’t get you very far if you don’t have strong abdominal, lower and upper back, glute, hip and pelvic muscles. Your “core” describes just about every muscle in your trunk – from your hips to your neck. It plays a big part in generating the strength you need to carry out most body movements.
In order to work core muscles effectively, you need to work out all of the muscles involved to build a rock solid foundation. When you think about it, these are the muscles that help support your ribs, spine, neck and hips and help protect your internal organs. They also support your posture and stabilize you when you walk, run, cycle, climb, swim, play and more.
Clearing up confusion about core exercises
1. Training just one muscle group will never give you the well-defined biceps, abs or shoulders you want. When I train my clients, we work multiple muscle groups in each workout to make sure all muscles in that area are equally targeted.
2. Without a well-rounded workout routine that targets key muscle groups, you risk straining other parts of your body. If you only work your abs and never work your back, for example, you’re not actually building up strong abs, you’re truly weakening your core by overdeveloping some muscles and letting others atrophy.
3. You can work your abdominal muscles all day long, but if you don’t eat right, cut out unhealthy fats and sugars and sodium, you’ll never achieve the six pack of your dreams. Consuming lean proteins, greens and complex cars to keep your metabolism fueled throughout the day and balancing your workouts helps give you the defined look you want. Working the same ab muscles every day won’t give you those results, you need to understand what to train and when, and when to give your body a break.
4. You don’t need to do hundreds of crunches, sit-ups or other ab exercises at a time, or even every day. Your abs need rest just like every other part of your body. Overtraining one area, in the hopes that you’ll have a lean, toned midsection, is counter-productive.
An effective core muscle workout
We’ll start with some of my favorite ab exercises. My clients know that every workout contains three or more exercises targeted to their core abdominal muscles. Plan to do three sets of each exercise, alternating two to three exercises per set. Work up to 20 reps per set.
Crunches are an effective way to target your upper abdominal muscles. You can do them lying on the floor or a flat bench.
- With your back flat on the floor, or on a bench, slide your feet toward your torso and bend your knees at about a 90-degree angle, keeping your feet flat on the floor/bench.
- Keeping your lower back flat, hold your hands behind your head, roll your head and torso up toward your knees. You should feel your upper abs contracting.
- Slowly lower yourself back down so your upper back is flat on the floor/bench. Repeat.
Ball crunches involve a similar motion to the crunches above, only this time you’ll use a large exercise ball or bosu ball (flat, plastic base with rounded, inflated rubber top) for this exercise. The key here is to keep your feet flat on the ground; your back will arch, due to the rounded shape of the ball. This will allow you further range of motion in the exercise, which in turn works the core muscles even more deeply.
- With your feet flat on the floor, and your lower back stabilized by the ball, slowly allow yourself to bend backwards so your back is fully supported by the ball.
- Keeping your lower back pressed against the ball, hold your hands behind your head, roll your head and torso up toward your knees. You should feel your upper abs contracting.
- Slowly lower yourself back down so your upper back is fully supported by the ball. Repeat.
Planks are one of the best full core exercises you can do. The plank works your abs, your back and your chest, all in one move. You can brace your feet against a wall for a small degree of support.
- Start this exercise on your elbows and knees with your weight supported by your forearms. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders. You can “walk” your feet back toward the wall as you straighten your legs.
- The correct position for a plank is to have your weight supported by your feet and forearms. Your head, neck, back and hips should be aligned, sloping downward toward your feet. Don’t raise your hips/butt to throw off your alignment.
- Hold the plank up to 30 seconds. If you start to shake uncontrollably, lower yourself back to the starting position.You’ll want to work up to a full 60 seconds for each plank.
- To increase difficulty, try lifting one arm or one foot off of the floor, while holding the plank position.
Pelvic tilts/hip raises
Plan to do three sets of each exercise, alternating two to three exercises per set. Work up to 20 reps per set. I recommend you do this exercise on a bench. You’ll want to support your upper body by holding onto the bench with your hands.
- Lie on the bench face up, with your back flat. Reach your hands over your head, bending your arms so you can grab the bench to support yourself.
- Keeping your legs straight, raise them so they’re perpendicular to the floor, bent at a 90 degree angle to your body.
- Keeping your upper back flat on the bench and your legs still perpendicular to the floor, slowly raise your hips about 3 inches off of the bench. Contract your abs to lift your hips
- To keep your legs in the proper position, imagine trying to press your feet into the ceiling as you do the exercise.
- Contract your abs to slowly lower your hips back to the bench. Repeat.