A tighter core is about more than just the coveted “six-pack;” the core is – as the name suggests – at the very center of all our movements. The abdominals, spinal extensors, glutes, and hips are all part of the core. Low back pain, poor posture, and sports injuries can all stem from a weak core, but strong, stable core muscles boost strength, flexibility and mobility to keep us active and healthy at the gym and in every day life. Here’s how to tighten it up!
- Bird-Dog: This move teaches stabilization through the abdominals, spine, and shoulders and engages the glutes. It’s great to use as a warm-up before strength training. Lift one hand and opposite leg off the floor, forming one straight line from your hand to your foot. Focus on pushing down through the supporting hand for shoulder stability, lifting belly button up away from the floor, and keeping hips and shoulders square to the floor and in line with the spine.
- Toe Taps: This exercise targets the lower abdominals and teaches stabilization of the spine and pelvis while increasing abdominal strength. Set up by lying on your back and imagining tucking the pelvis to feel the low back anchored toward the floor. Remember to keep your legs at a 90-degree angle throughout the movement, rather than hinging at the knee, in order to engage the core! To increase the challenge, increase the range by tapping the toe further away, or by lowering both legs at the same time, to add load in the lower abdominals. To reduce intensity, keep one foot on the floor throughout, or perform seated.
- Plank: There are entire Pinterest boards devoted to Plank challenges, but it’s important to them properly! Planks are great for nearly every fitness level. They can be performed on the hands (pushup position) or forearms, with knees down for support and less load on the core, or on the toes for a greater challenge. As in Bird-Dog, it’s key to keep your abdominals braced and pulled up away from the floor to protect the spine. Imagine a long line from the top of your head all the way to your heels. If your butt is up in the air, your abs don’t have to work! If your low back dips or feels strained, that’s a sign the abdominals are fatigued or disengaged and it’s time to take a break and reset. Set up with wrists or elbows under your shoulders for stability, and keep eyes out in front of you for great alignment.
- Side Plank: Side planks are one of the best exercises for the obliques, as well as the shoulders, hips and glutes! Your elbow should be stacked directly under the shoulder, and elbow, hip, and bottom knee (or foot) should create a straight line. Squeeze your glutes to keep bottom hips lifted away from the floor, and press down into the supporting hand/arm for stability.
- Pikes: For advanced exercisers looking to take their core strength to the next level, pikes are great ways to engage the core, as well as the shoulders. There are several ways to perform a pike. On the TRX, set up with your feet in the TRX straps, knees down, and hands under shoulders. Lift your knees to come into plank position on the TRX, then use the abdominals to draw your feet toward your hands, piking hips up high and keeping legs straight. (Modification is to tuck the knees in toward chest). The same movement can also be done with feet on a stability ball or on gliding discs.
Justine is a Certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She is also an Assessor with the Les Mills US Team. On the rare occasions when she’s not teaching, training, or working out, you might find her exploring the outdoors, curled up with a book, or planning her next trip.