What do you think when you hear the word “core” in relation to exercise? Maybe you envision someone with flawless 6-pack abs who got them doing a zillion crunches, right?
This is the image that has been used to portray the ideal core for years. But there’s so much more to your core than what meets the eye!
Researchers in the fitness industry have discovered that there are many more muscles in the trunk of the human body that make up the core, also known as the “Power House” of the body. This Power House runs along the entire length of your torso on the front, sides, and back of your body, and even includes muscles located in the hip and shoulder areas. Most of the force needed to generate powerful movements of the body either stem from or pass through the core, including kettlebell swings, planks, and woodchops, just to name a few.
A strong core can help you prevent injury, improve your posture, and increase your strength and stability. In order to create a strong core that can generate and sustain force safely and efficiently, you need to incorporate a variety of exercises that will engage multiple muscles of the core from your shoulders to your hips.
These three moves will give your core a well-balanced workout that it will love (we promise!):
Strengthens: transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, shoulder stabilizers
Start lying face down on a mat or flat surface. Place your hands under your shoulders (elbows will be bent), tuck your toes under, and use your abdominals to pull your hips off of the floor. Continue to draw your abdominals in to keep your core braced and your spine long as you simultaneously press down through your hands. You can choose to lift your knees off of the floor or keep them on the floor depending on your fitness level or comfort. Breathe evenly and hold for 30 – 60 seconds. Perform this 2-3 times.
Progression: Lift 1 arm or 1 leg off of the floor while holding your plank position.
- Bicycle Crunches
Strengthens: rectus abdominis, obliques (these can help shape your waistline), hip flexors
Start lying faceup on a mat or flat surface with your knees bent and feet approximately hip-width apart. Place your fingertips lightly on your temples (avoid grabbing behind your head to avoid strain on the neck). Inhale to prepare, and on your exhale lift your left shoulder and right knee at the same time and draw them together, creating a diagonal connection of the shoulder to the knee. Inhale as you return to the starting position, and on your next exhale repeat to the other side. Perform 10-15 repetitions on each side for 2 – 3 sets.
Progression: start with your feet off of the floor, knees stacked over your hips. As you exhale and draw opposite shoulder to opposite knee, extend the other leg long and keep it off of the floor.
- Hip Bridge
Strengthens: Back of the core (also known as the posterior core muscles) – gluteus maximus, hamstrings, erector spinae, and low back.
Start lying faceup on a mat or flat surface with your knees bent and feet approximately hip-width apart. Ground down firmly and evenly through both feet, draw your navel down towards the floor to brace your abdominals, and keep your neck long (avoid hiking the chin away from the chest – keep it in a neutral position so your gaze is straight up to the ceiling). Inhale to prepare, exhale and press through both feet to lift your hips off of the floor. Keep your spine long at the top of the bridge and avoid arching through the low back. Inhale as you lower to return to the starting position. Perform 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.
Progression: Make this a single-sided exercise to challenge your unilateral strength! Prior to lifting your hips off the floor, lift one knee over your hip, then press down through the foot on the floor to lift your hips up.
Remember to consult your physician before attempting these exercises or any fitness routine to ensure your safety and preparedness.
Crystal Smith is the Group Fitness Manager and an Instructor at American Family Fitness in Mechanicsville and has been part of the AFFamily for 19 years. She has a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications from VCU and is certified by the Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) as a Group Fitness Instructor. She is also certified to teach several MOSSA formats including ACTIVE, BLAST, CENTERGY, CORE, and R30, along with Lemond Cycling, Team ICG Coach By Color, and Silver Sneakers™ Classic. Crystal grew up and currently resides in Mechanicsville, VA. She has been happily married for 20 years to her best friend Shawn and has two sons, Hunter and Hank who attend the same middle and high school their parents did. Outside of teaching classes, Crystal enjoys running and competing in races. She’s also a homebody and loves to spend time at home with family.