Four Basic Exercises to Improve Your Core Strength
When I was 13, I went to Iceland in Berkeley with a group of friends to ice skate. My friends decided we should play tag and full disclosure, I’m just okay at ice skating. But at 13 years old, my ego was stronger than my feelings of self-preservation and I signed on to play with former hockey players. My friend Danny Cohen was “it” and he was chasing me - and gaining on me quickly. I remember going faster than I was comfortable with and all of a sudden my skates came out from under me, I flew up into the air and landed on my butt, hard. The pain was hot, burning and severe. I stopped skating then and limped off the ice. I was too embarrassed to cry.
The next morning, my dad took me to the ER at Kaiser and they said there was nothing they could do. Even if I had broken my back, they said they couldn’t do anything so they declined x-rays. The doctor took me off of PE for a year. It took that whole year until I could walk without a limp. It wasn’t until I was in chiropractic school, 14 years later, that I found out I had broken my tailbone. By this time my low back pain was chronic and constant. I would wake up in the middle of the night in severe pain, having to walk around get a little bit of relief. I tried physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, pain pills…. nothing helped. Chiropractic helped reduce severity of the pain but it was still persistent. It wasn’t until I learned how to strengthen my core that my back finally started to feel good again. I learned then that keeping a strong core is vital to spinal health and being pain-free.
why is it important?
Our core muscles are important for balance and stability. If you think of the body like a house, The core is like the foundation, it provides a nice strong, safe structure for the rest of the house to be built on. Most of our movements rely on our core strength so if our core is weak and unstable, muscles in other areas of our body will have to work harder to pick up the slack.
A lot of people ignore their core because they hate doing sit ups. I have some good news for you - you won’t see sit ups on my list of core exercises because sit ups, if done incorrectly, are dangerous and they are not the most efficient core exercise. That’s because core muscles are more than just abdominal muscles - the core also includes muscles of the pelvic floor, external obliques, erector spinae muscles of the spine, latissimus dorsi (or back muscles), trapezius muscles, and the glutes.
Below is a list of basic and effective exercises to improve your core strength if you are a beginner. These exercise target the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen and encourage them to all work more harmoniously.
#1: Bird Dog
Muscles used: Abs, Back, Gluteus Maximus, Hips
This exercise is excellent for improving core stability because it targets many muscle areas and works on stability and balance at the same time.
Step 1: Get into a hands and knees position on an exercise mat, positioning your knees under your hips and wrists under your shoulders, fingers facing forward.
Step 2: Begin to engage your core, drawing your belly button in towards your spine. Imagine there is an invisible string pulling your belly button towards your back. Keep your spine in a neutral position (no drooping or rounding of the low back), and pull your shoulder blades down and together.
Step 3: Move your left arm and your right leg up simultaneously, slowly, lengthening both until they run parallel to the floor. The leg and arm should only be raised as to heights that allow you to maintain the shoulders and pelvis in parallel to one another, the core engaged and the spine in neutral position.
Hold this position for 10-15 seconds, alternating each side and repeat 3-4 times.
Muscles used: Gluteus maximus, Erector Spinae, Hamstrings
Step 1: Lie on your back with your knees bent, your palms facing down by your hips. Move your hands a few inches away from your hips.
Step 2: Tighten your abdominal muscles, raising your hips off the floor until your hips are aligned with your knees and your shoulders.
Step 3: Hold for 10-15 seconds. When complete, slowly draw your hips back down to the floor.
Repeat this exercise 3-4 times.
#3: Basic Front Plank
Muscles used: Abs, Gluteus medius, Gluteus minimus, Adductor muscles of the hip, Internal and External Obliques
Step 1: Start at the top of a push up position, keeping your shoulders over your wrists and drawing your shoulders down and together. The rest of your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes.
Step 2: Engage your abdominal muscles, pulling your belly button in towards your spine and drawing your hips forward slightly to activate your glute muscles.
Step 3: Hold the position for 30-60 seconds.
If you are having any wrist pain or weakness, you can modify this exercise by lowering yourself down to your elbows in step 1.
#4: Modified Side Plank
Muscles used: Obliques, Shoulders, Low Back
Step 1: Sit on the floor and come onto your elbow, starting on the right side of the body.
Step 2: Bend the bottom knee and arm 90 degrees and lift your hips off the ground, keeping your right shoulder away from your ear. Lift the left arm overhead, perpendicular to the floor.
Step 3: Hold for 20-30 seconds, and repeat on the opposite side.
Images from American Council on Exercise
8:00am - 5:00pm
9:30am - 6:30pm
8:00am - 5:00pm
9:30am - 6:30pm