Core exercises work the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, obliques, hips, and abdomen. If it’s not leg or arm-specific, it’s a core exercise.
Abdominal muscles are considered “core” because they’re the foundation of a strong and stabilizing midsection. A strong core is essential. It protects your spine, helps you balance, and efficiently transfers power between your upper and lower body. Core muscles play a part in everyday activities from carrying groceries to playing with your kids. Studies even indicate that core exercises prevent back injuries by keeping the spine in a neutral position.
There are many ways to train your core, but targeted exercises are more effective than a general workout. (Always consult your physician before starting any exercise program.)
Core Exercise Benefits
Working the core isn’t anyone’s favorite part of exercising. Take heart; core exercises offer the biggest return on investment of any exercises you might do. Benefits include:
- Strengthening and toning abdominal muscles
- Reducing risk of injuries, especially to the lower back
- Improving balance and stability—which helps prevent falls
- Enhancing sports performance
- Reducing fatigue
- Correcting posture problems by ensuring proper spine alignment
- Increasing stamina to lift weights and do other exercises
The Key 3
Different bodies tend to respond differently to any given exercise. Some core exercises, however, are remarkably effective for everyone. Incorporate these three into your workout at least three times a week (or make them your workout). As with all exercise, be sure to warm-up before working out your core.
- Start by lying on your stomach with elbows bent 90 degrees (like the Sphinx).
- Raise yourself up, onto your toes and forearms, so that only your forearms and toes are touching the ground.
- Keep your body rigid, in a straight line from head to toe. Engage your abs by squeezing them tight.
- Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, or as long as you can. Do 3 to 5 reps.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Place your hands behind your head, elbows pointing out to the sides.
- Slowly raise your shoulders off the floor by contracting your abs.
- Keep your neck and head in line with your spine (no craning!).
- Reverse the motion, lowering your shoulders to the starting position at the same steady pace. Do 10 to 15 reps.
- Arm-and-Leg Raises
- Set yourself on hands and knees, with back and neck straight.
- Slowly lift your right arm and left leg, aligning them with your body.
- Hold for a count of three, then lower.
- Switch arm and leg, and repeat. Do 10 to 12 per side.
Adaptive Core Exercises
Find these three exercises too challenging? Here are options adapted to the needs of the elderly and anyone with mobility or back issues.
- Modified Superman
- Lie face down with your arms stretched out in front of you (like Superman flying).
- Lift your left arm and right leg along with your head. (If this is too much, just do your arm and then your leg.)
- Hold for five seconds.
- Repeat ten times, alternating arms and legs.
- You can also do this while sitting on a chair, if it’s not possible to lay on your stomach.
- Seated Leg Raisers
- Sit on a comfortable seat with no back, and at the right height so that your knees are bent 90°.
- Brace yourself with your hands as necessary, keep your spine and neck in proper upright position, and raise one leg straight out in front of you.
- Hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Lower the leg and switch to you second leg. Do 10 to 15 reps per leg.
- Side bends
- Stand straight with good posture and your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Stretch to the right, with your left hand on your hip.
- Reach down and try to touch the fingers of your right hand to your right knee. Don’t strain or overstretch.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat on the left side. Do 5 to 10 reps per side.
Don’t be discouraged if you can only do a couple repetitions to start with. Try the exercises every other day and eventually you’ll build up your flexibility and endurance. As you become comfortable with a number of reps, add more. No matter what, it is essential to use excellent form to get the most benefit and prevent pulling a muscle.
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