3 Core Exercises You Should Be Doing
What do you think of when you hear “core training”? Crunches, side bends and twists? Or dead bugs, Pallof presses and farmer’s’ walks? Despite the misconception, performing hundreds of sit ups in isolation will not get you the toned abs you long for…in fact, performing these exercises that use the core as prime movers means you are missing out on major functions of your core, like force transfer and stabilization. A well conditioned core plays a vital role in both performance and injury prevention with its primary role being to provide stability of the spine and to resist unwanted movement.
Your “core” consists of so much more than your rectus abdominus or “6-pack” muscles; spinal erectors, transversus abdominis, diaphragm, pelvic floor, multifidus…the list goes on. Neglecting these deeper muscles in order to “feel the burn” can be relatively ineffective and actually hazardous to the health of your spine. So, if you want to be a functional and strong human being, please, throw out the ab cradles and start challenging your core in all three planes of motion. Try out the anti-extension, anti-rotation and anti-lateral flexion exercises below to your workouts and your body will thank you for it!
1. Anti-extension – Dead Bugs
The goal of this exercise is to activate our deep core muscles while simultaneously moving our extremities.
Don’t be fooled by its relative simplicity – if performed correctly, the deep lumbo-pelvic stabilisation combined with enhanced motor control make it anything but.
● Lie flat on your back with your arms extended above you towards the ceiling.
● Bend your knees to 90 degrees and raise your thighs, one at a time, until perpendicular to the floor.
● Deeply inhale and brace your core (imagine somebody about to punch you in the gut!) to bring your ribcage down and gently press your lower back against the ground.
● Maintain this locked in position throughout the exercise.
To initiate the exercise, take a deep stomach-to-chest inhale and as you forcefully exhale, slowly lower the right arm and left leg towards the floor simultaneously.
Hold for a one second pause while fully extended, then as you inhale, slowly return to start position and repeat on opposite side. Aim for 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps per side.
2. Anti-Rotation – Pallof Press
This is a versatile, user-friendly exercise that really trains your core’s primary function of stabilisation. It can be performed with a cable and single handle attachment or a resistance band.
● Adjust the cable/band so that it will be level with your chest.
● Grasp the handle/band with both hands, pull out and stand with the side of your body towards the weight stack or band attachment point.
● Adopt an “athletic stance”; feet hip distance apart, hips back, knees slightly bent, chest out and shoulders back.
● Deeply inhale, brace your core and squeeze your glutes.
Exhale deeply and forcefully as you press your arms away from the chest, until fully extended. Hold the cable/band steady in front of you for a one second pause.
Slowly return to the chest as you inhale. Stay in control of the movement and avoid letting your body sway backwards and forwards.
3. Anti-lateral Flexion – Farmer’s Walks
Weighted carries are a versatile movement pattern that can have numerous applications in training. They are a great way of activating the deep muscles of the trunk and hip (with the added bonus of improving grip strength and shoulder stabilisation in overhead varieties) and the single arm variation is excellent for developing the strength required to resist lateral flexion.
● Gripping the weight (try a kettlebell or dumbbell) in one hand, deadlift it up off the ground.
● Reinforce good posture by setting the shoulders back and down, keep your chest tall and head back to avoid a forward flexed position.
● Squeeze the weight as if you’re trying to break it for better stabilisation and activation in the shoulders and rotator cuff.
Walk for the given distance/time while maintaining a neutral spine position and resisting side bending. Don’t rush; focus on a slow paced, heel to toe walk.
Start by performing 2-3 sets for 20-30 seconds carries.
My preference is for my clients to include core activation work as part of their warm up; activation exercises are designed to get the big muscles in your body to wake up, work properly and be prepared for the workout ahead. Not only does it reduce the risk of injury, but it helps to foster a mind/body connection that stops smaller muscles taking on loads they simply can’t handle.
Each day, pick a different movement pattern to focus on and combine with myofascial release work and active stretches for a full warm up. Out of ten, the intensity should be five to eight and never working to failure. If in doubt, remember; neutral, brace, breathe and you won’t go too far wrong!
Sarah is a personal trainer and Physiotherapist from Dublin with a passion for movement, lifting, learning and strong coffee. For more health and fitness advice and tips, you can follow her on Facebook,Instagram or by visiting her website.