Maribeth Ryan, a Wildwood Athletic Club fitness instructor, wants to change people’s mindset about having strong core. Specifically, she wants you to think beyond your abs and obliques.
“The core contains many muscles that work together to help you with your daily functions, like being able to stand, have posture and stability,” said Ryan. “Personally, I think it ranges from your knees to your shoulders.”
According to Ryan, everyday activities, such as picking up your child or carrying groceries depend on that core strength. If you don’t have a strong core, you could very easily strain yourself. A strong core is also foundationally important to other types of training, including strength training and running.
“If you don’t have a strong core, it will take away from your form and the effects you get from exercises like push ups and deadlifts. With improper form, you’re really putting a lot of pressure in an area it shouldn’t be, such as the back,” explained Ryan. “If you’re a runner, strengthening your core will support your diaphragm and help you get that deep breath when you run.”
Because your core is a wide range of muscles, Ryan recommends core workouts that use multiple muscles. Crunches and oblique movements that isolate muscles are still helpful, but should be mixed with these multi-muscle movements for overall core strength. Leg drops with an overarm extension (#3 below) are a great example of this.
“In this exercise, you’re using your shoulders, lats, abs, and even some of your glutes as you bring your legs down and arms overhead at the same time,” said Ryan. “It’s focusing on multiple muscles working together, not just one targeted ab muscle.”
Tips and Exercises
Before we jump into the exercises, Ryan recommends that people keep three things in mind when strengthening their core:
- Focus on form. Take your time with movements and focus on form to avoid injury. Crunches, for example, can strain the neck and back if you do them multiple times quickly.
- Breathe. This is especially important when you’re doing strength building. When you’re in a plank, let that air flow in and out of your body. In fluid movements, exhale in the movement as you come out of the contraction.
- Don’t overextend. People often think that the more you extend the more you’ll get out of the exercise, but that’s not true. Overextending, particularly for twisting movements, can put pressure on the spine and won’t help your core.
A plank can be done in many variations based on your core strength. In a prone (facing down) position, come up into either a full arm plank or forearm plank. It is most important to ensure you are maintaining a flat plane in your plank – not dropping the hips down or pushing them up. Your shoulders should be dropped down below your ears. For less intensity, you can drop to the knees.
#2 Kneeling Superman
Beginning on the hands and knees, extend one arm out as you are extending the opposite leg. Then pull the arm and opposite leg in toward each other while maintaining hips squared to the ground.
3. Leg Drop with Overarm Extension
In a supine (laying up) position, extend the arms straight up and down. At the same time, drop the legs to the floor while reaching the arms overhead. As an alternative, you can bend the knees to 90 degrees and tap them to the floor while extending overhead.