When you hear people speaking about “core work” do you find yourself shaking your head in agreement but thinking, “What the heck is the core?” You’re not alone. Many people feel the same way. When it comes to all the advice, different routines and methods of working out much of it can be confusing.
Essentially, the core is the area of the body from just below the pectoral muscles to the hips, both front and back. Many people are aware of, and do, abdominal exercise however the part that they leave out is the lower and mid back exercises. Both are vital for a strong core. Strengthening one’s core is a necessity. A strong and conditioned core can help to prevent against injury and allow the body to make large strength and overall performance gains.
Core strength allows you to pull primal stability from it and perform longer and harder. If you bench press with a bar or dumbbells than you are probably familiar with a common urge. Wanting to arch your back when your power or endurance starts to weaken is a natural response as the body tries to find that instinctual “second strength”. While this is considered bad form, if you were to give in and allow it to happen with a weak core it could result in injury. Tightening your abs as the weight gets more difficult to lift is okay though and it helps a great deal-another advantage to having a strong core.
Key Point: Many actions derive all or most of their strength from the core.
Take a baseball pitcher’s actions, for example. As the pitcher steps back into the wind up on the pitching rubber he partially, and in some cases dramatically, contorts his body. As he comes forward with the pitch, his body weight shifts and he “unwinds” and his core pivots powerfully forwards and back around, towards the plate, as he pushes himself off the mound with his back foot. The same goes for a hitter’s swing. While many may assume that the arms provide a lot of the power it is actually the core and hips that twist violently as the arms come around with bat in hand. Oblique’s, the side portion of the abdominals, are commonly injured or “strained” in professional baseball. For this reason a player must constantly ensure that his core is conditioned. Here is a short list of some of the best core exercises. For more information or additional exercise you may want to look here.
To start, lie on your stomach on the floor with your arms at 90 degree angles on either side of your head. Keeping your toes planted on the floor; flex your butt and lower back, lifting your upper body and hands off the floor. Hold this position for a count of 3-5 seconds, increasing your time as strength increases. Try to keep your head pointing towards floor, not straining your neck. You should have the majority of your weight on you abdomen and hips. Repeat for 3-5 sets.
The Plank-entire core
Lay on your stomach on a mat, your toes pointed to the floor and elbows on the floor directly below your shoulders, hands out in front. Lift your entire body from the floor by tightening your abs and back muscles, keeping legs, butt and torso all in alignment. Maintain this position for as long as you are capable. Try not to sag in the middle or arching your back. Your body should form a straight line. When you start to feel weak, relax and return to the floor. Repeat for 3-5 sets.
Lay on a mat, back side to the floor, knees bent and feet flat on the floor a comfortable distance from your butt. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Place your hands either side of you head, elbows pointing out to the sides. Slowly and without rocking or pulling on your head and neck, contract your abdominals as you rotate up, keeping your head, neck and shoulders in alignment. Now, attempt to touch your left elbow to your right knee. It is okay if you are unable to do so. The contraction is working! Return to the starting position. Repeat for 10-15 reps on that side and then switch (left ankle on right knee).
Lay on your back on a mat, with your knees bent and feet lat on floor a comfortable distance from your apart and from your butt. Place your hands on either side of your. DO NOT PULL ON YOUR HEAD OR NECK! Keeping your lower and mid back pressed the floor, focus on a spot directly above your head and contract your abdomen, lifting your upper torso off the floor towards the ceiling. Concentrate more on lifting up than forward. Hold at the top of the contraction for 2 counts then slowly return to the floor. Continue to exhaustion. Repeat for 3-5 sets.
As with all strength and conditioning programs consistency is the key. Improving and driving yourself to do more of these exercises will ensure that your core is in “tip-top” shape. This will greatly improve your performance in other exercises, sports, as well as staying healthy and active.
Additional Notes: After this article was published I found a great tool for chiseled abs…check this out!