Your Core is a Natural Powerhouse
When you think of core strength, you likely think “abs of steel”, right? But there is so much more to the core than just abs. Your core consists of the abdominal muscles around the gut, the back muscles, the glutes, the muscles in the pelvis, and the diaphragm, which aids in breathing.
The core is the body’s powerhouse. It helps to drive your power into the extremities, enabling you to do daily activities with ease. It also protects your spine and spinal cord, supporting your body’s communication pathway with the brain. Without core strength, you may be more prone to injuries—most commonly, back pain.
Did you know that up to 40 percent of injuries in the extremities may come from having a weak core? This happens because when we aren’t driving our power through our core, our extremities have to pick up on the slack that they weren’t meant to manage. When the activities that you do are repetitive, these muscles and ligaments tend to get fatigued and more vulnerable to injury, resulting in pain. But when your core is strong, not only do you help better support your extremities, you may also be able to reduce preexisting injuries in places like the shoulder, elbow, and knees.
Everyday Core Training
Besides doing strengthening exercises specifically to improve core strength, you can also engage your core to protect your back while doing everyday movements such as walking, climbing in and out of a car, going up and down stairs, or other motions that take place during workouts. It doesn’t require special equipment, and no one even needs to know you’re doing it!
To engage your core, pretend someone is about to punch you in the stomach. That reaction, the pulling in and tightening of your core muscles, is how it feels when your core is engaged. You want to be able to take full breaths in and out (remember, your diaphragm is a member of the core!). Try not to “suck in” your stomach, but rather, engage it by having it “squeeze” itself. Try it even when you’re sitting at your desk or on your daily commute and you may notice a difference in your comfort level, a reduction in back pain, and/or an increase in core strength since you will become more in tune with your body.
How To Strengthen Your Core
You don’t need fancy equipment or a gym membership to get your core in condition. The following core strength exercises are easy to do and only require enough floor space for your body!
Start by planting your hands flat under your shoulders like you would in a push-up position. You can also do this by balancing on your forearms if that is more comfortable. If you’re a real beginner, you can modify by resting on your knees. Engage your core and make sure your back is straight. Keep your neck neutral. Hold for as long as you can while continuing to breathe. Repeat as many times as you wish. Who knew being so still could be so powerful?
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Squeeze your glutes to lift your pelvis up off the floor. Only go as high as you can and lower your pelvis if you start to feel anything in the back. Either hold the position at the top or gently lower your pelvis, squeezing the glutes as you do. Repeat as many times as you wish.
To make the plank or glute bridge more challenging, you can increase reps and sets, and add weights or resistance bands.
Lie down on your back with knees bent in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Start with a deep inhalation into the belly. You should feel your hand on your belly gently moving up and down with very little movement to the hand on your chest. You can also place hands on either side of the chest and feel your chest expanding out to the side. This is how you can engage the diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing is also great for relaxation and becoming resilient to stress because it helps you go from a fight-or-flight (sympathetic) state to a rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) state. Do this for at least one or two minutes.
Always discuss any new exercises or any changes you make to your health with your healthcare provider first as they may not be right for you and your situation. Discontinue any exercise if you feel any pain.