I think by now, most people are aware that simply doing crunches is not an effective or efficient approach to building core strength. Traditional crunches do not need to be tossed out completely because they can, when done properly, create a defined look in the rectus abdominis once all the deeper muscles have been taught to engage. Let’s take a look below the superficial layer of our abdomen and discuss why strengthening the deeper layer of the core is the key to strengthening your midsection.
To build proper core strength, we must first teach the deeper muscles of the abdomen, such as the transverse abdominis and internal and external obliques to do the job they were created to do: wrap, lift and support the abdomen like a girdle or a corset. The exercises that do this wrapping and lifting do not need to be complex movements, but they need to initially focus on form for stabilizing the core. Muscles in the lower back and glutes will need to be engaged as well, creating a solid base for stabilization. The bonus here is that once you properly strengthen those deeper layers, most of your day can become a core workout, from pushing a grocery cart and pedaling a bike to lifting bags of dog food and playing with your kids. The exercises listed below will give you a great progression for strength but I must caution that visualizing those muscles doing their job of wrapping and lifting is one of the most important foundations for engaging the proper muscles. Think brain to muscle connection.
Core Strength for Beginners:
If you are new to the idea of wrapping, lifting and stabilizing with the core, these simple exercises will create the base for moving into more challenging exercises.
Start with these 3 exercises:
- Dead Bug: While laying on your back, bend knees to 90 degrees and extend arm in the air forming a straight line from hands to shoulders. Inhale, pull your lower back to the floor creating a pelvic tilt while extending right arm and left leg. After returning to starting position, switch sides. 6-8 reps per side. 3 rounds
- Plank: Start on all fours. Slowly walk the elbows out in front of your body while pulling your knees off the floor, creating a straight line from head to heels. Squeeze legs together while pushing your heels towards the back wall. Pull your belly button towards your spine. Hold for 10-30 seconds for 3 rounds.
- Bird Dog: Starting on all fours, check to see that your hips are in line with knees and shoulders and wrists are in line. This exercise is best done slowly. Inhale and extend right arm in front of you, and left leg behind you. As you come back to starting position, crunch elbow towards knee, contracting the abdomen. 8-10 reps per side for 2-3 rounds
Core Strength for Intermediates:
For those of you who feel as if your stabilizers are strong enough to wrap and lift without too much thought, consider moving into these same exercises but on a BOSU Ball. The BOSU Ball adds in an element of instability which will challenge your core to another level of strength and stability.
- Dead Bug on BOSU: Same as above, but start with lower back on BOSU and adjust position so that your body starts in a stabilized position. 6-8 reps per side for 3 rounds
- Plank with BOSU: Flip BOSU to rounded side down. Place hands on either side of BOSU and perform a straight arm plank, keeping shoulders and wrists in line and straight line from head to heels. 10-30 seconds for 3 rounds.
- Bird Dog on BOSU: Starting with your knees on the BOSU and hands on the floor with shoulders and wrists in line, perform the same exercise as above. Stability will be challenged here, but remember to breathe into your core and contract your deep muscles for stability. 6-8 per side for 3 rounds
Core Strength for Advanced:
Like shifting a manual transmission without thinking, these exercises should be done ONLY if you do not need to remind your abdomen to wrap and lift with every repetition.
- Cable or Resistance Band Twist: Standing with a cable or resistance band in front of your body anywhere from floor height to waist height, interlock your fingers and grab the handle with both hands. Step back to create tension in the cable. Squat with straight arms, then return to standing while twisting abdomen to one side. **Keep hips facing forward during the entire motion to keep the stability in your core. 8-10 per side for 3 rounds.
- Medicine Ball Twist: Start seated with feet in front of you. Place 8-25 pound medicine ball to one side by your hip. Lift medicine ball and twist it around your abdomen to the other side. Place it on the floor. Drop and lift the ball with each rep and place it back on the floor. 8-10 per side for 3 rounds.
- Plank Superman: In a straight arm plank position, inhale and lift right arm and left leg off of the floor. Return to start and switch sides. 6-8 per side for 3 rounds.