Strengthening your core is important. Improved core strength will not only help you feel better but it makes you more resilient. That is, what can you do in your life and still feel good? Can you walk for 1 mile? What about 10? Can you pick up a gallon of milk? Or, can you pick up a 40lb bag of salt? My point here is that core strength translates to so many areas of our lives. Having a strong core will let you do more, confidently.
The most effective core workout is determined by your goal. If your goal is to have a 6-pack then that requires different core workouts than wanting to improve your strength. If you are wanting to feel stronger and be able to do more in our life then the core exercises below are great places to start.
If the goal of strengthening your core is to obtain a 6 pack. While visually appealing, how you look doesn't mean you are strong. If you are looking for a 6 pack you have to dial in your diet and nutrition. It’s a function of body fat percentage, not strength.
As a physical therapist, I often talk to people about core strengthening. The first step to core strengthening is knowledge. You have to know what you are strengthening and why. Close after learning about the core you must dedicate time and effort to improving it with specific exercises.
Your core is often thought of as the 6-pack abs. In reality, your 6 pack abs or the rectus abdominis, are only a small part of your core. You also have your transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques as well as your diaphragm and pelvic floor. These muscles along with bony support from your pelvis and rib cage give your body core strength.
Your core is also composed of the muscles in your lower back. The small muscles in your lower back give you strength and support throughout the day. Most people notice this when you try to stand for long periods of time and notice that your lower back becomes achy or sore. Stretching Can help but strengthening is the lower term solution for lower back pain.
The deep core muscles are attached to important areas of your body such as your lower back. When I work with clients who want to strengthen their core muscles we first learn the anatomy of your body. We reviewed this above! Yes, you have core muscles but they can be hard to feel at first. It is also worth noting that your core contracts and works with nearly every move we make. You actually work it more than you think!
The deep core muscles are important for initial strength generation with movement of our legs and arms! It also contracts with other tasks such as sneezing and using the bathroom. There was a big push a while back about learning how to strengthen the deep core muscles due to its relationship with lower back pain. Fast forward a few years, it seems that improving core strength in general is more worth our time than trying to specifically isolate one muscle.
The Transverse abdominis is the deepest core muscle and its muscle fibers pull things inward. It allows us to build up intra-abdominal pressure so we lift heavy things and do things such as get out of a chair and off the floor. Since it attaches our ribs and lower back it can felt near those areas if you press deep enough. When you look at research studies it activates with many moments and when we improve our core strength the activation of the transverse abdominis also improves.
On top of the transverse abdominis we have the internal and external obliques. They are really cool and the muscle fibers are aligned at angles. Hence, the name. They give us strength and support with rotational tasks such as bending and twisting. If you feel you side below you ribs, you will feel your internal and exteneral obliques.
When we work on core strengthening it’s best to complete exercises that hit all of the core muscles efficiently and effectively. This is what physical therapists do every day. It’s human nature to want to do the least amount of work for the most amount of return. After years of treating patients and reviewing the literature let’s review the best exercises for improving core strength.
Below are easy core strengthening exercises you can do at home that I have instructed many clients on to help them improve their core strength, back pain, back strength and more. I focus on the most efficient and effective ways to increase core strength.
If you are intesested in learning more about exercises for core strength training and and workouts then check out our book my wife and I wrote. She is a physical therapist as well and we believe this book is a great beginners wanting to learn about their core and improve their core strength. It covers many exercises as well as workouts and even reviews pain specific core workouts such as hip and lower back pain.
Lie down on the ground or an elevated surface with your knees bent. Cradle your neck in your hands and make sure to keep you chin tucked. Curl your chest towards your thighs. Then with control, return to lying on your back. Higher isn't better.
Dosage: 2 sets of 20
Lie on your back with your arms straight up towards the ceiling and your knees lifted at a 90 degree angle. Draw your belly button in towards your spine. Lower one arm towards your ear while you extend the opposite leg straight out towards the ground (but don't let it touch!). Keep your back flat and try not to let it arch as you go.
Dosage: 2 sets of 30
Lie on your side with your feet stacked and your upper half supported on your elbow. Raise your hips so the only contact point on the ground is your feet and elbow. Hold this position. This is tough but it's a very effective core exercise.
Dosage: 2 sets of 30
Begin on all fours with your arms under your shoulders, knees under your hips, and eyes looking between your palms. Draw your belly button in towards your spine. Extend one arm forward and the opposite leg backwards, ensuring that your back stays level. Repeat.
Dosage: 2 sets of 20
Lie on your belly, propped up on your forearms. Raise your bellyoff the floor until your spine is straight. The contact points on the ground should be your elbows/forearms and toes. Hold this position. Try not to let you lower back sag as you go. If your lower back begins to bother you then rest.
Dosage: 2 sets of 30 seconds
Start in the traditional bird dog position as mentioned above. Raise your top arm towards the ceiling (this is the thread). Next, reach your top arm under your side as far as you can while keeping your balance. Your chest will rotate towards the ground, but your hips should stay still. You feel your entire lower and middle back stretch.
Dosage: 10 on each side
Lie on the ground with your knees bent and your hands supporting your neck. Raise your shoulders and feet off of the ground. Alternate touching your opposite elbow to knee while extending the other limb straight out.
Dosage: 40 total reps with no rest! :)
Begin in a plank position. Draw one knee up towards your chest by trying to shorten the distance between your ribs and your hip bones with your belly muscles. Think about contracting your abs as you crunch.
Dosage: 2 sets of 20
Lie on your belly with your arms resting on the floor in front of you. Raise your arms, chest, and feet off of the ground so the contact points are your trunk and thighs. Hold this position. You will feel your entire back working. It's great!
Dosage: 2 sets of 20 reps
Lie on your back with your hands at your side (or even under your glutes) and your legs straight out in front of you. Draw your belly button into your spine. Raise both feet a few inches off the ground while keeping your back glued to the ground. Make small kicks with your legs.
Dosage: 40 reps total
The reason why these are effective for strengthening deep core muscles is because to do them correctly they each require a drawing in or sucking in step that helps you engage your deep core muscles. You know you are doing them correctly when it feels that you are having difficulty breathing. That's because most of these muscles attach to your ribs. When you activate them it can feel that you are holding your breath but as you improve you want to practice taking shallow breaths. Make sure you don't hold your breath but practice shallow breathing when you are strengthening your core.
Daily core strengthening is the best way to feel stronger and have long lasting results. Your core is filled with certain muscle fibers that are built to handle load for long periods of time. They have to fight gravity all day long and help us move in every direction. It is okay to exercise your core every day.
When I work with clients on integrating daily core strengthening, the first step is a habit change. This is particularly challenging with my lower back pain patients but once they start noticing improvement it's easy to strengthen daily.
Working on your body for 20 min a day can have a huge impact on how you feel today but the future as well. Exercise helps prevent and treat many diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sarcopenia, and obesity. I am only scratching the surface of the benefits of exercise but the long story short is that exercise is extremely beneficial for nearly every human on this earth.
The point here is that daily core exercises will not only make you stronger but help you live a longer, healthier, and resilient life.
Exercising every day is beneficial and we all need to find a way to incorporate it. I am a fan of doing it in the morning because we can always find a 100 reasons why not to do something after we get home from work. Having a partner can help you stay on track and motivated. And lastly, starting with 1-2 exercises will help you feel a good burn and start to build some strength without a large commitment.
Give your body 4 weeks to improve your core strength. The gift of 4 weeks can be all it takes to notice significant improvement. If you do some level of exercise every day, like many things in life, you will improveI would attempt 4-5 of the exercises above every day to see a gradual improvement in your strength. The great news is that you can mix things up and change the exercises as you go! Now, if you are in pain then that may require the assistance of a professional, like a physical therapist, to make sure you are doing what is appropriate for your body.
It only takes the body a few weeks to strengthen the connection from your brain to your core muscles. Your body will develop improved motor control or the ability to activate certain muscles. This is why you will notice a significant improvement in core strength in the first few weeks because your body is becoming more effective at activating your core muscles. I love seeing my patients improve their pain and strength so quickly!
In summary, equipping yourself with knowledge will help you start strengthening your core efficiently and effectively. The core exercises listed above are great ways to build core strength and I promise you will notice change after a few weeks of staying consistent and motivated. Core strengthening isn't complicated but it is a commitment. You got this!
Revision Health Services offers telehealth for Florida residents as well as massage and physical therapy locally in Jacksonville, Nocatee, and St. Johns, Florida. To find out if our services could be the best fit for you, reach out and let's chat!
Until next time, stay healthy, keep moving, and take care of yourself.
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