A strong core isn’t all about six-packs and sit-ups. It’s the powerhouse of all movement and should be working hard during pretty much every single exercise you do in the gym.
Not only will it protect you from injury but it will help you move more effectively.
First thing’s first – do you know what the word “core” actually refers to? It’s way more than a rippling six-pack – we’re talking the entire area that wraps around your spine. That means your abs, your back, basically everything apart from your arms and legs.
So, by simply sticking a couple of sets of crunches at the end of each workout, you’re not only training your core ineffectively, but you’re also missing out on half of the things it can help you do.
Master the art of breathing
Not only is breath critical for providing your body with oxygen, but the way you breathe also affects your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. The muscles in your trunk cylinder include the diaphragm at the top, deep abdominal muscles at the sides and the pelvic floor muscles at the base.
Deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles help maintain pressure in your trunk cylinder when breathing.
But diaphragmatic breathing techniques and breathing exercises can help you promote the coordinated activity of your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.
Activate your core at the start of your workout
All too often, you see people leaving core-focused work until the end of the workout. Not only is your body fatigued by then, but you’ll miss out on the benefits of switching it on before you carry out the range of movements – i.e. injury prevention and more efficient movement which will deliver greater gains.
Start with some connection breaths, and then add in some simple activation exercises. That could be a swiss ball plank, some bird dogs (pictured) or some deadbugs.
Make sure your core remains “on” throughout your workout
When lifting weights, you want to make sure your core is activated to protect your body from injury, particularly as you start to fatigue.
This is where breathwork comes in. Exhaling on effort will help ensure your core remains braced, protecting your spine from potential injury.
Key things to look out for are that the ribs aren’t flared, that your stomach isn’t doming and that your tailbone isn’t sticking out.
If you feel like your core isn’t kicking in properly, take a time-out to do some activation work before resuming the original exercise.
Don’t just work the superficial layer of muscle
Yes, working the rectus abdominis will give you that six-pack, but a strong core – not so much.
To get real core strength, you need to think a bit deeper. We’re talking your transverse abdominals, multifudus, your diaphragm and your pelvic floor – and yes, the last one applies for both men and women.
So how do you do that?
First, focus on finding those muscles – this is where breathwork comes in.
Then, take things to the next level with exercises like the superman for the multifudus, the plank for the transverse and glute bridges for that pelvic floor (pictured).
Still confused? Take a pilates class for a real lesson in core strength.
Mix things up
Think about all of the different functions of the core. You need to ensure good core stability as well as maintaining that integrity during dynamic movements – and don’t forget about the posterior core.
That’s why to train your core, you need to mix things up.
Planks are great, but try some mountain climbers, supermans and swiss ball jack knives (pictured).
Throw some anti-rotation exercises in there too, like pallof presses, bird dogs or quadruped hip circles, ensuring the pelvis remain stable. Try placing a bottle of water on the small of your back if necessary.
The deadlift is also a great exercise for the posterior, but build up core strength before tackling to prevent lower back injury.
Do you feel confident about your core?