Completing exercises to improve core strength won’t necessarily mean you will feel a ton of “burning” and fatigue in your abs. The role of the muscles that stabilize your trunk and pelvis, aka your core musculature, are to maintain proper posture against the following forces: flexion, extension, and rotation.
Here are 5 that are guaranteed to help strengthen your core and improve posture:
Unless you really like hanging out in a plank position, you don’t need to be planking for more than 30 seconds… if that. The focus of a plank is not how long you hold it for, but rather, how WELL you’re holding it.
I’m not sure why people feel more accomplished the longer they hold their plank position, but it needs to stop—IMMEDIATELY!
A good plank should have the following characteristics:
- A neutral neck – which means your chin is tucked with your gaze looking just in front of your finger tips
- Elbows directly under your shoulders
- A neutral spine – meaning your upper back is not rounded and your lower back is not arched
- Straightened legs in an active way – which means you should be tensing your glutes and quads continuously to keep your legs as straight as possible
- Engaged lats – which can be done by gently pressing your elbows into the floor towards your toes
- Consistent breathing – your breath should remain constant throughout the duration of your hold
If you do ALL of the above, and hold your plank position for 2-5 sets at 15-second intervals your core will benefit 100% more than if you held your position for, “as long as you could.”
Here are some great videos to show you how it’s done:
For more the more advanced
2. The Active Leg Lower
This one looks easy, but if you have restrictions with your hamstring flexibility or weaknesses with your core, (which is common) you will be pleasantly surprised by how effective this exercise is at engaging your core.
How to execute the active leg lower:
- Find a doorway
- Make sure both of your legs are straight. This is important. You may need to position yourself further or closer to the wall depending on your flexibility—or lack there of
- Have the heel of your foot against the wall, and then come away just slightly. The distant between your heel and the wall should not change at any point during this exercise
- Complete leg rises with your free leg, ensuring that your toes stay pointed towards the ceiling. Don’t let your foot turn out
- Complete 2-3 x 5-10 reps per side
Here is a video to show you how it’s done:
3. ½ Kneel Anti-Rotational Exercises
½ kneeling variations are great because they help to decrease tension in your hip flexors—especially if you have an anterior pelvis tilt. I especially like these exercises because the set-up keeps your hip flexors in a stretched position—preventing you from using them as your primary stabilizers—which ultimately promotes the use of your core.
Those of you who stretch your hip flexors tirelessly and see no improvement should definitely give these a try.
- Maintain a stretch in the front of your thigh of your knee that is down. This should be done while keeping your glute actively engaged
- Keep your torso tall
- Make sure your shoulders remain stacked over hips
- Do 2-3 x 10 reps per side
Here are 3 of my favourite 1/2 kneel variations:
1/2 Kneel Pallof Press
1/2 Kneel Lift
1/2 Kneel Chop
4. Front Loaded Squats
Performing a squat with an anterior load is a great way to strengthen your core, as well as your legs. Normally we start with a goblet variation—which can be done with a dumbbell or kettlebell, then progressed to a barbell.
Here’s how to get the most out of the exercise:
- Follow coaching cues
- Ensure that your elbow’s stay in. They should be between knees
- Keep your knees tracked over your toes on the downward movement
- Make sure your chest stays up
- Ensure that your pelvis remains neutral (with minimal bum wink)
- Make sure there is no valgus (inward) collapse at your feet
- Keep your weight shifted towards your heels
- Use a proper bracing and intra-abdominal pressure via your breath
Here’s a video to show you how it’s done:
Obviously all of us breathe all day—but how many of you breathe in a way that optimally utilizes your core musculature? Say that 10 times fast 😛
If your answer to that question is, “I don’t know” try this simple test:
- Go to a mirror
- Take a deep breath in through your nose
- Then exhale
What happened? For most, your shoulders and chest will elevate and your stomach will suck in. This style of breathing can cause overuse of your neck and hip flexor muscles, and/or chronic tension; not to mention, increased tension though your mid back.
Learning how to properly perform a diaphragmatic breath is the single most important thing you can do to improve your core… yes you read that right. If you dedicate some time and learn how to properly breathe using your diaphragm—which is the strongest muscle involved in breathing and also part of our anterior core complex—you will see the following benefits:
- Improved lung function
- Greater involvement of your core musculature during rest and activity
- Decreased tension in your neck and mid back
- Decreased tension in your hip flexor muscles
- Improved posture
- A reduction in anxiety and sympathetic tone
This list of benefits really could go on and on, but you get the idea. How you breathe is just as important as breathing itself.
Here is a video tutorial of how you can improve your breathing pattern:
Give these exercises a try and let me know what you think!
Or if you are interested in having an assessment to see where your specific weaknesses are, contact us for a strategy session.