Core Exercises To Strengthen
Your Abs And Back
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Core exercises are really important to do, find out why. Build your core strength and stability for any activity.
Most of us think that doing core exercises will give us 6-pack abs. Wrong!
But it's not your fault if you did think that. Most pictures and advertising, glorify abs. Everyone then has an obsession with 6-pack abs, including me!
Yes they look great. But most of all, knowing I have a flat stomach and can see the outline of my abs, makes me feel great. That's what it's all about really, right? Feeling great.
But.. you don't get 6-pack abs by only doing core exercises. Actually we all have the popular 6-pack outline of our abs. Why can't you see it? Because your stomach area is a fat storage safe haven. It's one of the first places both men and women put on fat. Ugh!
Yes, doing core exercises will strengthen your abs. No, doing core exercises won't take the fat off above your abs. Result, no 6-pack abs to be seen. Solution, to do
fat burning exercises.
Also keep a
healthy balanced diet.
It will ensure you aren't eating more fat than you need. So it won't be stored straight back on your stomach.
Easier said than done? Check out these tips to help you on your way.
Core Exercises - Core Muscles
The big problem with glorifying 6-pack abs, we forget the rest of our core. A full range of core exercises will strengthen all of your core muscles, these include:
Rectus Abdominis.. this is the glorious muscle that you see with 6-pack abs. It runs from your pubic region all the way up to your ribs. It has 3 lines of tendons going across, which split it into 8 sections. You can usually see 6 of those sections, known as your 6-pack.
External Oblique.. they run down each side of your stomach.
Internal Oblique.. they run up each side of your stomach, under the external oblique.
Transverse Abdominis.. it runs across your abdomen, under the internal oblique, making it the deepest abdominal muscle.
Quadratus Lumborum.. it runs from your pelvis to your spine and lowest rib, just above the transverse abdominis.
Trapezius.. it runs all the way from your skull to half way down your spine and across into your shoulder blade. The major muscle of your upper back.
Erector Spinae Group.. this group of 3 muscles run in line with your spine from your skull to lower back.
Transversospinalis Group.. this group of 5 muscles (3 Semispinalis muscles, Multifidus and Rotatores) attach to different parts of your spine, from your skull to lower back.
Gluteus Group.. this group of 3 muscles (maximus, medius and minimus) run from different parts of the back of your pelvis to the back of your thigh.
Psoas Major.. it runs from your lower spine to the front, inner edge of your thigh.
I hope this gives you an idea of the many muscles included in your core. I have just listed the main ones here. It's not necessary to know each action of every muscle (which is why I left it out). By doing a wide range of core exercises, you will be working each one.
Core Exercises - Why Do Them?
Why do you need to strengthen all of your core evenly?
There are 2 main reasons:
To avoid injury and back pain. There are many reasons why we get back pain (see your health professional before doing any exercise for back pain). But most of those reasons are caused by muscle imbalances.
Strong abdominal muscles and weak lower back muscles commonly lead to injuries. Along with weak upper back muscles, you'll be prone to poor posture. And if you're heavily overweight, your back will struggle to cope.
To improve your performance in any activity. Every movement we make is stabilised by our core muscles. No matter what exercise or sport you do, a strong core will help you improve.
When you move your arms or legs, your core muscles should be stable and strong to control the movement. The stronger your core is, the better control you will have, leading to a higher quality and efficiency of that movement. In simple terms, it'll be easier and safer to move your arms and legs faster and with more power. That means better performance.
There came a point as I was first discovering core exercises, when the penny dropped. Core exercises are all about protecting your spine. Whether it's from everyday activities (e.g. bending, lifting) or elite sports performance, and everything in-between.
If you can visualise your spine in every movement you make, you might get an idea of the stress it's put under. Even when you're not moving, your spine is under stress. Get used to associating core exercises with your spine. This way you'll get the best out of them.
Core Exercises - Finally! The Exercises
What are the core exercises? Well seeing as there are so many exercises focused on either your back or abs, I've dedicated a whole page for each:
There are also some core exercises that work a combination of your abs, back and pelvis. They are good exercises to start off with, involving little or no movement. The focus is on discovering those deep core muscles. Once you have control of these, you'll be ready to move on to the more specific and challenging ab and back exercises.
These exercises are best done on an
(Remember to keep controlled, steady breathing throughout each exercise):
Deep Core Muscle Contraction.. Lie flat on your front on the exercise mat and relax. Keeping your hips and back still, lift your stomach up towards your back. Focus on the deep muscles, this is a very small movement when done correctly. Hold for 5 seconds and relax. Repeat 5 times. Progress by holding it for longer each time, aim for 2 minutes or even longer.
You can do this exercise lying on your back too (with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat). Once you're used to the movement, you can actually practice it wherever you are (lying, sitting or standing). During everyday activities (e.g. standing in a queue), or even during normal exercise (e.g. riding your bike).
This small movement is the basis of all your core exercises. Always focus on first contracting your deep core muscles, then initiating each exercise movement.
Plank.. Lie on your front on the exercise mat and relax. Keep your forearms flat on the mat (in an upside down V-shape) throughout. Lift your body up on to your forearms and toes. Aim for a straight line between neck and ankles. Hold for 5 seconds and relax. Repeat 5 times. Progress by holding it for longer each time, aim for 1 minute or even longer.
You'll feel the pressure on your whole core, although it's your abs that are worked the most. Keep your body weight balanced and focus on working your core muscles, rather than your legs and arms.
Side Plank.. Lie on your right side and relax. Keep your right forearm flat on the mat (at a right angle from your body), and your feet together. Lift your body up on to your forearm and right foot (with left foot resting on top). Aim for a straight line between neck and feet, and between your right shoulder and elbow. Rest your left arm by your side or on your waist. Hold for 5 seconds and relax. Repeat 5 times. Progress by holding it for longer each time, aim for 1 minute or even longer.
You'll feel the pressure on the right side of your abs and back. Turn around and repeat the process for your left side.
Bridge.. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat, both arms straight by your sides. Lift your hips up, let your shoulders and feet take the weight. Aim to have your feet below your knees, and a straight line from shoulders to knees. Hold for 5 seconds and relax. Repeat 5 times. Progress by holding it for longer each time, aim for 1 minute or even longer.
You'll feel the pressure on your lower back and bottom. But focus on working your whole core to keep your hips up. Be sure not to take any weight on your neck.
Bird-Dog.. Get on your hands and knees (hands directly below your shoulders, knees directly below your hips), and your back straight. Lift your right leg up and backward, and your left arm up and forward. Aim to have a straight line from your right leg, through your back and along your left arm. Hold for 3 seconds and relax. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Repeat the whole process 5 times. Progress by holding it for longer each time, aim for 10 seconds.
You'll feel the pressure mainly in your lower back and bottom. Remember to focus on your core and keep balanced by working your abs too. Don't tilt to one side. You should always have opposite arms and legs working together.
Advanced Half Bird-Dog.. Get into the push-up position (arms straight), with a straight line from shoulders to ankles. With focus on your whole core, slightly lift your right arm for 2 seconds (weight is on left arm and both feet), then bring it back down. Then slightly lift your left foot for 2 seconds (weight is on right foot and both arms), and back down. Repeat with your left arm and then right foot. Progress by lifting each arm and leg higher and longer, aim for 5 seconds each.
You'll feel the pressure mainly in your arms and legs. This exercise shows your core working whilst the rest of your body is under pressure. As you develop core strength, you'll find it easier to hold this exercise for longer, even though your arms and legs are taking most the weight.
Core exercises are vital for any person, of any age and any fitness level. There is no better prevention for back pain. If you do a variation of general core exercises, and specific back and ab exercises, you'll feel the difference. And if you work to burn your excess fat, you'll also see the difference!
If you do
you've already got a head start. Pilates is focused on building core strength.
Many of the core exercises are forms of yoga and pilates movements.
Pilates is a great way to combine core exercises with general body conditioning, in an enjoyable way.
is also a great activity to combine with core exercises. Because you're suspended in water, your core works hard to keep your body balanced.
Core exercises will greatly improve your swimming performance and technique.
Find Out More:
Learn how to get 6 Pack Abs through proper training and nutrition.
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