Do you ever dream of having firm, tight abs someday? While it may feel impossible, especially after having children, there is hope in getting a slimmer midsection. That is a problem area for so many people and can be discouraging when you’ve tried so many things to tone your middle. With the right eating habits and exercise, you can be well on your way to a flatter belly. Strengthening the core is the best place to start.
What is Your Core?
You may just think of your abs when you think of your core. But, the core is much more than just abs. Your core is made up of your abdominal muscles, pelvic muscles (pelvic floor), mid and lower back muscles and even your hip muscles. They all work together to support your spine and your body. These muscles need to be strengthened to get that sculpted midsection and to have a strong body.
We often don’t realize how much we use our core in day-to-day activities. Core muscles stabilize the spine by keeping it from twisting or breaking and it gives the body strength to carry out many different movements. We use our core muscles to walk, run, clean, lift and so much more. The stronger your core is, the better you can do any of these activities. For people who are very physically active or do any type of sports, it is imperative to have a strong core.
The pelvic floor muscles form the base of the core muscles. These muscles work with the abdominal muscles, back muscles and diaphragm to support the spine and control pressure inside the tummy. When you lift weights, for example, the pressure increases and as you put the weights down, the pressure returns to normal. Usually, this happens automatically. However, if someone has weaker core muscles, including the pelvic floor, this doesn’t happen as well as it should.
In women, pelvic floor muscles can weaken in time, especially after childbirth. It’s so important to strengthen these muscles to improve bladder control and improved recovery after childbirth. It also reduces the risk of vaginal prolapse, improves bowel function and increases sexual sensation.
Benefits of a Strong Core
As I’ve already mentioned, there are so many reasons to strengthen your core. Here are some of the many:
- Increased balance and coordination. With back and ab muscles becoming stronger, the body’s balance and coordination improves.
- Improved posture. As core is responsible for maintaining stability of the spine, when it is strong, your posture will improve as well.
- Better breathing. With an improved posture, your breathing will be functioning better as a result.
- Stabilizes lower back. Makes lower back stronger and healthier.
- Increased flexibility. When the back is stabilized, there is less tension on back muscles and other muscles. Less tension equals less strain and more flexibility.
- Protects the body from injury or strain. This is very important when lifting heavy objects and weightlifting.
- Alleviates back pain. If you have frequent pain in your back, slowly strengthening the core will help. You’re more prone to pain and injury with a weaker core.
- Improved brain power. This is one you may not have thought of before! With core exercises, part of the brain called the cerebellum gets stimulated. This affects coordination (such as hand-eye coordination), spatial awareness and balance. This is also good for people who play sports.
Top 5 Exercises for a Strong Core
Below are 5 of the best exercises for strengthening the core muscles. Doing these exercises at least 3 times a week, 3 reps each exercise, will definitely leave you feeling stronger and more stable.
Before doing any exercises, it is important to warm up so that your muscles aren’t stiff and to prevent injury or strain. Do some arm circles, shoulder circles, waist circles, lunges and spot jogging to get your muscles warmed up.
1. Bird Dog Pose
Go on your hands and knees in table position. Elbows should be right below your shoulders and your knees should be below your hips. Keep back straight. Engage your core. Lift your left leg and right arm off the ground and stretch them straight out. Hold for 5 seconds, release and switch sides. Don’t tuck your neck in. Keep neck in line with back and gaze down.
2. Elbow Plank
Go down on your elbows and stretch out your legs, with toes holding up your legs. Support your body on elbows and toes. Keep spine in line with your hips and neck. Gaze at the floor, keeping neck in line with back. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
3. Side Plank
Lie on your right side and extend your legs. Keep your left foot on top of your right foot and engage core, lifting your hips off of the floor. Keep your neck in line with spine and look straight ahead. Hold for 20 seconds. Release and repeat on the left side. Do three repetitions per side.
4. Mountain Climbers
Assume the table position (on hands and knees). Extend legs back, keep spine straight and look at the floor. Alternate bringing your right leg to your chest and then the left. Do slowly at first and increase your speed once comfortable.
5. Standing Side Crunches
Stand straight with legs hip-width apart. Keep shoulders back and extend your hands above your head. Lift your right leg, flexing the knee and pointing leg outward. At the same time, crunch upper body sideways and down and touch knee with your right elbow. Do three repetitions of 12 on each side.
As you can see, it is so important to have a strong core. We use it all the time, so to prevent injury and have better ability to move with ease, the core is the place to start.
Try these exercises above and see what a difference it makes. Other great exercises for core strength are swimming, Pilates and yoga. The latter two I will touch base on in a future post. Stay tuned!