Come clean now – when you sign up for a gym membership or a new workout regime, the first thing that pops into your mind is being the proud owner of six-pack abs? Do you carry the mental image of your favourite actor and their six- or eight-pack abs in that new movie when you suffer through your core workout?

You are not alone.

First, let’s start with a clean slate. There is some confusion regarding this so let’s first get this out of the way.

What IS your core?

Imagine a drum. The top of this drum is your diaphragm, the large dome-shaped muscle that moves rhythmically to aid your breathing. Forming the base of the drum are your pelvic floor muscles. Your internal and external obliques, your transverse abdominis form the front and the sides, multifidus muscles and gluteal muscles, the back. There are a few more muscle groups in there, stabilizing and strengthening this drum.

This drum is your core. 

This is the very center of your body and what strengthens it. Your core connects your upper body with your body. A strong core makes it easy for you to be strong & stable, helps with your balance, and has a great impact on the quality of your life.

When the drum is wrapped up tight your core is strong, and your everyday life is good. Your strong core muscles ensure you enjoy a proper posture, a healthy back, and better balance. You play sports with ease, as your strong core is a powerhouse of energy and efficiency. Your quality of life is great everyday activities are a breeze.

Life’s good.

When your core is weak, it is as if the drum has sprung a leak. You suffer from poor posture and low back pain, your ab muscles aren’t strong and taut, and you run a high risk of injury. Your fitness level takes a beating. Left untreated, you might end up with chronic pain and a lower quality of life.

Your physical therapist is on your Christmas card list.

Not a very nice picture, is it? But it needn’t be all doom and gloom. Let’s start off with what it means to have a stronger core.

Improved balance & stability

Your core is at the very center of your body. Having it nice and strong means your torso is strong. This, in turn, means you have a good posture, you stand up a little taller and balanced on your feet. This is extremely handy in everything from walking to playing sports. Your back muscles and your spine are protected. You can move about confidently, without fear of falling.

Healthy back

Stong core means you get to say no to lower back pain. When your core is stable, your core muscles are resilient and your spine is strong. You can carry heavy objects with ease and do not have to rely on external help to carry your shopping or your baby. Back pain is one of the first signs of a weak core and a healthy back, the sign of a good, strong one.

Handle daily activities pain-free

With a strong core, daily living becomes that much easier. You can bend down easily to put on your shoes or pick up toys off your floor. You can reach up to the top shelf to retrieve objects safely. You can lift, twist, turn, and move with confidence, knowing your strong core is powering your movement.

Improved athletic performance

When your core is strong, you can run better. Strength train better. Lifting weights, swimming, rowing, basketball, golfing – you name it, your core is at the, well, core of your athletic prowess. Practically every athletic action is powered by a strong core. Only when your core muscles are strong can you generate sufficient energy, energy that is then transferred to the rest of the body to perform the necessary action.   

Now that you are Team Core, let’s see how you can strengthen your core muscles safely.

Top core exercises

“I love to do crunches daily”, said no one ever. Well, mostly. Many think doing multiple reps of ab crunches daily is the only way to a strong core. Or they think a strong core is synonymous with a six-pack. Both are untrue.

There are many, many core exercises that are not spelled “c r u n c h e s”. Core strength training is actually quite enjoyable to do! Here are a few of our favourite core exercises and instructions to do them.

Belly breathing

No joke! Before you start off with any complicated move, checking to see if your breathing pattern is right is an excellent way to begin. In fact, Tim Anderson of Original Strength calls belly breathing a ‘pillar of human movement’. By activating your diaphragm, the ‘captain of your body’s stabilisers’ and engaging the core, you strengthen your center. 

To start, assume a comfortable position. Either standing up tall, with your hands at your hips (the ‘power position’), or lie down flat on your back. Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathe in air all the way down into your belly. Feel your diaphragm move freely as you do so. Exhale and pull the muscles from your pelvic floor and let the air out. Do this for at least two minutes, before you do anything.

Side plank

The side plank is an excellent way to strengthen your oblique muscles. Even if you are not fond of the regular plank, you can try this variant to work on your core. To perform a side plank, lie down on your side, legs fully extended, and your body in a straight line. If you have turned to your right, place your right arm on the floor, elbow to fist. Make sure that your elbow is right underneath your shoulder.

Inhale through your nose and breathe in, engaging your core. Exhale and lift your hips and legs off the floor, with your feet stacked one on top of the other. If you find this hard, bend your knees and lift up, stacking your knees on top of each other. Your left arm must be raised up straight from your shoulder, to aid your balance.

Keep breathing and switch to the other side after 30 seconds.

Dead Bugs

Dead bugs are one of the best ways to engage your core muscles. If your back is bothering you, this is THE move to do to alleviate the pain and build some strength. To perform the dead bug, lie down flat on your back, maintaining the natural curve of your spine, legs stretched fully, arms by your side.

On an inhale, pull your legs towards your torso and lift them into a ‘table top’ position. Your legs must form an inverted L shape to the rest of your body. If you wish to, you could place the palms of your hands on your knees, in a ‘brace’ position. On the exhale, push your palms against your knees while pulling your legs in. This is the Dead Bug Bracer. You can do this with your head on the floor, or raised.

In order to make this into a Dead Bug, raise your arms so they form a straight line from your shoulders, pointing them towards the ceiling. On an inhale, gently straighten one leg, while moving the opposite arm all the way back to parallel with the floor. Exhale, and bring the arm and the leg both to the starting position. At the next inhale, repeat the move with the opposite leg and arm.

If this is tough, you can keep your arms pointed towards the ceiling and move just the legs.

Russian Twists

This is a favourite core move and can be performed without any extra equipment or with a kettlebell or a slam ball. 

To perform a Russian twist, sit upright on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bracing your core, lean back and lift your legs together. If you are holding a kettlebell or a slam ball, twist at your waist from side to side, passing the object from one side to another.

The key is to engage your core muscles and use that to drive the twist. This will help you maintain your balance and fire up your abs. Remember not to rush this!

Dynamic hollow holds

At The Quad, dynamic hollow holds (DHH) are a regular feature. We use them to fire up the core at the start of a training session before we move on to weights. To do a dynamic hollow hold, lie down on your back, with your legs stretched fully.

Engage your core and raise your legs off the floor, holding them together. Do not raise them too high, to a point where you feel it in your low back. Now, with your arms by the side of your body, start moving them up and down, engaging your shoulders. Make sure you aren’t just flapping your wrists, but the movement is originating from the shoulder.

As always, proper form is key. The last thing you want is to compromise on form and end up injured! Invest in a good personal trainer or a coach that can observe you and correct your form.

While these are specific core exercises you may add to your regular workouts to work on your core, there are plenty that aren’t traditionally thought of as “core-strengthening exercises” but do, in fact, strengthen your core. Squats, in addition to being the quintessential lower body exercise, also target your core. Deadlifts, especially the Single-leg Romanian Deadlift, are excellent to target your core stability, balance, and strength.

The overhead press is an excellent core strength move, as it helps strengthen your obliques, the transverse abdominals, spinal stabilizer muscles, and the muscles of your lower back. And, our absolute favourite, the kettlebell swings – nothing torches your core and fires up those muscles like KB swings can!

Core training doesn’t just mean boring crunches and sit-ups! In fact, many of the moves you to work on your other muscle groups rely on your core to hold your center and provide stability. So even on “leg day” or “upper body day”, you might still be working on your core!

Strong core, strong you

This is because, when it comes down to it, your core forms the basis of all that you do. Inside the gym and out of it. Sit on the couch all day? You will end up weakening your glutes, your back, and your core. Slouch and wreck your posture? You imbalance your body and your core. Breathe shallowly, without engaging your diaphragm? You guessed it.

The health of your core impacts your entire body. Having a strong core goes far beyond the x-pack of movie heroes. A strong core is the strongest indicator of your quality of life.Want to know how to strengthen your core(as well as your legs, arms, and various other muscle groups)? You know the drill – get in touch with us and we will take over supercharging your core and your life. Whatchu waiting for?

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