Have you been told you need to work on your core strength and in hearing that you’ve wondered what on earth is the core? The core is colloquially known as the muscles around the trunk, but I’d like to cast a wider net and discuss what the core actually consists of.
The core is made up of the deep muscles around the trunk (sides and front support), but also the pelvic floor (muscles at the ‘base’ of the core), the stabilising muscles of the spine (supporting from the ‘back’) and the diaphragm (the ‘top’ of the core).
These muscles work together to provide stability and support for the spine and pelvis, and with these muscles working together we can often see an improvement in back complaints and issues surrounding this area.
The core doesn’t work in isolation and works together with the strong butt and hip muscles.
In this article, we will focus on the core being the deep trunk muscle (transverse abdominis), pelvic floor muscles and the deep lumbar stabilisers (multifidus) and ways we can target the core and strengthen it, with more exciting exercises than sit-ups or crunches!
Isometric exercises are any exercise that involves holding a static posture for a specified period of time during the contraction of a muscle. Isometric exercise has been shown to increase muscle recruitment, thereby increasing your strength.
The exercises demonstrated below can be turned into an isometric exercise. I encourage you to try and notice the difference in effort.
All you need to do is move into the end position and hold for 5 – 10 seconds before lowering.
SB Dead bug
Laying on your back, hold the Swiss ball between your knees and hands, keeping knees at 90 degrees and elbows straight.
Engage your core and gently press your lower back toward the floor, slowly move opposite arm and leg toward the floor at the same time, until they are hovering above the floor. Keep the lower back still as you move your limbs, slowly move your arm and leg back to the start position.
Repeat on the other side. Perform three sets of 12 each side.
This classic exercise is excellent for building core strength. Begin with knees and forearms on the floor, keep your shoulders away from your ears and pushing into the floor.
Tighten your core, butt and thighs and straighten your knees, lifting them off the floor – forming a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles.
Elongate your neck, tucking your chin in. Avoid lifting your hips too high and do not allow them to ‘sag’ toward the floor.
To make it easier – plank from the knees, to make it harder, lift one foot off the floor.
Start with five second holds and build up to 30 seconds or more. It’s really important to breathe throughout this exercise.
Reverse glute hamstring plank
Begin by sitting on your bottom, hands flat on the floor and heels on the ground. Tighten the quads, butt and core and lift the hips off the floor. Ensure your ankles are pulled back so that your toes are pulling toward your nose.
Drive your heels downward into the floor at the same time as squeezing the glutes and driving the hips upward toward the ceiling. Perform three sets of six, holding for 5 – 10 seconds.
This exercise is very rarely done properly. Move carefully and slowly with this one to control your lower back and pelvis as best you can.
Begin by kneeling on the floor, your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Keep a slight curve in your lower back, imagining a wine glass sitting there and you can’t allow it to spill.
Slowly extend your opposite arm and leg at the same time, keeping your hips and shoulders level. If you feel the lower back beginning to arch, simply pause, squeeze the glute and core, then lower back to the start.
The aim is to keep the lower back still and to move from the hip and shoulder joints, with as little movement in the spine as possible. Perform three sets of 12 each side, make it harder by holding for 5 – 10 seconds with the limbs extended.
This exercise is a goodie, no equipment required. Lay on the floor, legs and arms straight, with arms overhead.
Tighten up your abdominals and lift your legs off the floor about 10-20cm and then curl your shoulders up off the floor and raise your arms as shown in the picture.
This is where you can hold for a moment, then lower slowly and repeat OR you can hold for five seconds then lower. Try to build up to 10 second holds and perform three sets of 6 – 10.