10 Exercises To Get You On Your Way To Great Core Stability
Let’s face it, we all want nice abs. I bet if you are perusing this website it is not because you are wanting to get rid of your six-pack. But having a strong core is more than a six-pack. A stable core consists of the low back, hips, and lower abdominal muscles all working synergistically to act and react to forces on the body. A weak core leads to pain, muscle imbalances, injury, and poor posture as well as inefficient movements. Now, having a lack of time does not make you exempt from adding some core stability exercises into your workout. They are simple, can be performed in your living room, and don’t require additional equipment.
Core Stability – Training Your Muscles to Work Together
Photo credit: nicola.albertini
The key to core stabilization exercises is to train the entire core to work together rather than bulk up a specific set of muscles. Here are a few things to remember when starting any new program:
1. Start Gradual. Do not push yourself further than you are comfortable.
2. Breathe. Breathing throughout your exercises will help prevent injury and will also help you burn more calories!
3. Quality Over Quantity. You should perform all of the exercises slow and controlled so your momentum doesn’t “cheat” you through your workout.
Where to Start
How much should I do? When should I do it? And what exactly should I do? The exercises you choose should be performed as high repetition and low weight and need to be incorporated about 3 times per week to see an improvement. You should structure you core workouts the same way as any other weightlifting workout. My preference is 3 sets of a circuit of about 10 exercises, but if you are a beginner maybe start with less and see how it feels. It will take some time to figure out how many exercises you can perform in the amount of time you have, and be flexible enough to make some adjustments. Start out performing the exercises for 30 seconds or in reps of 10 and see how you feel. You can increase on your next set until you get to where you are challenging yourself. Also, in a workout it is best to work the major muscle groups first, so if you plan on doing cardio as well do that before your core workout. And don’t forget to have fun – work with a partner, make it a race against time, and add variety to your workouts.
Core Stability – Test Your Stamina
Here are some core exercises to start out with and as you become more advanced some of these can be performed on a exercise ball to add a challenge. These exercises can be performed in increments of 30 seconds; as you become stronger increase the time to 45 seconds or one minute. It is also important to keep your core contracted throughout the entire exercise.
1. Front Plank: This is similar to a push-up position and is performed on the floor. Laying on your stomach raise up onto your forearms and the balls of your feet so all of your weight is supported by those two points. Remember to pull your belly button to your spine as you keep your hips in line with your torso not allowing them to drop or raise above your back. A modification of this is to lower to your knees so that your weight is supported on your knees and forearms rather than the balls of your feet.
**CHALLENGE** In the front plank position raise one leg off of the ground so now your weight is only supported by one foot and both of your forearms. Change feet and then try it with your arms. To increase the intensity even more try lifting up both an opposite arm and leg at the same time. In this challenge remember to keep your stomach contracted and your hips in line with your torso.
2. Side Plank: Laying on your side raise up onto your forearm and the side of your foot so all of your weight is supported by those two points. Just like in the front plank it’s important to keep your hips in line with your torso and your belly button pulled in to your spine. A modification is to lower to your knees and bend them so that your weight is now between your one forearm and your knees.
**CHALLENGE** In the side plank position rotate your hips by slowly swinging the bottom hip (the one closer to the ground) out in front of you and then bring it back behind you. Try to push that hip out as far as you can and bring it back as far as you can so it works the muscles around those horrible love-handles. You should start to feel the burn in your back right above your hip.
3. V-Ups: This one is similar to a sit-up but both your knees and your chest come together rather than just the chest lifting off of the ground. Laying on your back with your knees straight slowly bend your knees and lift them towards your chest as you lift your chest off of the ground so that the only thing touching the floor is your butt. Then slowly lower them both until you are laying flat with your knees straight.
**CHALLENGE** When you lower back down let both your back and legs hover above the ground without touching and then repeat the exercise again. Your back won’t touch the ground until you are done with all of your repetitions.
Photo credit: mariachily
4. Russian Twists: Seated with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor lean back until your back is at about a 45 degree angle. Then twist your torso from side to side while keeping your abs contracted. To increase the intensity hold a weight in your hands and as you twist to each side touch it to the ground.
**CHALLENGE** As you perform your twists raise your feet up off of the ground so again your butt is the only thing touching the floor. You can also this challenge with the challenge version of the v-up to increase the intensity even more.
5. Alternating Superman: Laying on your stomach with your arms extended above your head, contract your low back to raise up an opposite arm and leg a few inches off of the floor. Slowly lower back down and then alternate sides.
**CHALLENGE** Instead of alternating sides perform both sides at the same time so both arms and legs are off of the floor at the same time.
6. Swimmers: Laying on your back with your legs extended and your arms at your sides, raise your feet about 6 inches off of the ground. Slightly lower one foot while the other raises then alternate; they should only be moving about 4 inches up and down. Perform this movement quickly as if you were kicking your feet while swimming.
**CHALLENGE** Kick your feet in the flutter pattern for 10 seconds. Then while your legs are still raised about 6 inches off of the ground, open your legs out to your sides and then close them as if making a snow angel 5 times. Continue alternating between these two.
7. Leg Raises: Lay on your back with your legs extended and your arms at your sides. Raise your legs up off of the ground until they are perpendicular with the floor and then SLOWLY lower them back down.
**CHALLENGE** With a partner standing at your head, raise your legs up to them and have them push your feet back towards the ground. You must control your legs and lower them slowly without letting your feet touch the ground.
8. Hip Raises: Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Contract your low back and glutes to raise your hips up off of the floor as high as they can go so you are in the bridge position with just your shoulders and feet on the floor. Lower your hips back down to the floor and then repeat.
**CHALLENGE** When you raise your hips up, hold the bridge position and raise one leg off of the ground then alternate.
9. Lunge: While standing with feet shoulder width apart, step forward with one foot and lower down into a lunge position, almost like you’re getting down on one knee to propose. Your back leg should be bent at 90 degrees and your knee should be a few inches from the ground. Your weight should mainly be supported by your front leg while that front knee is also bent to 90 degrees. Using your front leg, stand upright and bring your back leg forward to the starting position. Repeat while alternating legs. In this exercise it is important that the front knee is always directly above the foot when in the lunge (proposal) position.
**CHALLENGE** Once you lower down into the lunge, hold that position (your knee should not be touching the ground) and twist your torso to the front leg’s side. For example, if my right leg is in front and performing the lunge then I would lower down and twist towards my right side. To challenge yourself further perform this with a weight in your hands.
10: Crunches: This exercise is probably the most common. Perform this on your back with your knees bent. You can either keep your feet flat on the floor or raise them up into the air so your hips are also at 90 degrees. With your hands behind your head bring your chest off of the ground a few inches and then lower back down. These can also be performed by bringing your elbow to meet with your opposite knee and alternating between sides.
** CHALLENGE** Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. With your hands behind your head raise your back off of the ground until your shoulders are no longer touching. Once in this position hold for a second and then bring yourself up into a sitting position. This will really test your abdominal strength by eliminating momentum.
Your Turn, Go to Work!
Challenge yourself and test your core by trying these out with an exercise ball or added weight. Remember, keep your abs contracted and have fun!