In the first installment of our series on building a stronger core, we talked about the importance of breathing and posture, and described introductory exercises that will give you a strong base to build on.
Are you able to do the Level 1 core exercises while breathing normally and not losing control of the movements? If the answer is yes, it’s time to try more challenging exercises.
“The earlier movements let you know you’re ready for the next level,” says Gold’s Gym Fitness Expert Adam Friedman. “It’s about being proficient, meaning you are able to do the exercises under control and not by accident.”
Review the Basics
As you do the following exercises, remember to be mindful of two important building blocks for this area: Maintain proper posture, and breathe by engaging your diaphragm. Doing both things will ensure that the core muscles are properly engaged.
Level 2 Exercises
1. Core Brace
Lie on your back in a sit-up position, with knees bent. Slide your hands under your lower back so that your fingertips are touching beneath your belly button. Rotate the pelvis to increase pressure on your hands, but do not lift your sacrum (the triangular bone that forms the posterior of the pelvis); it should be flat on the ground. Your lower abdomen and pelvic floor muscles will be activated (kegel exercises — contracting and releasing the pelvic muscles that control urination — will help both sexes trigger and control this activation).
“Look at how the body tries to make things easy,” Friedman says. “A lot of people will lift their rear end off the ground, round their shoulders or tilt their head back.”
Keep your sacrum and rear end down and shoulders flat on the ground. Gaze at your knees to keep your head in the right position.
The goal: Maintain the brace for 2 minutes while breathing normally. Start by bracing for 30 seconds; add time with each workout.
Begin on your back in a sit-up position, with knees bent. Tilt the pelvis up to do a spinal roll (see previous core workout) and brace to hold that position, hips and vertebrae lifted.
“The idea here is to use the lower abdominals and the glutes to create stabilization,” Friedman says. “Muscles need that to have the ability to work for long periods of time. You’re creating muscular endurance.”
Think of the rear end as the bottom of a triangle, with the point about 2 inches below the belly button. That is the area of support for bridge position. If you feel strain in the lower back or hamstrings, that’s the body trying to make things easier.
The goal: Maintain the bridge for 2 minutes while breathing normally. Start by holding it for 30 seconds; add time with each workout.
3. Bird Dog Hold
Begin on your hands and knees and do a few cat and cow arches of the spine (see previous workout). Release the spine to a neutral position and brace your lower abdominals, activating the same muscles you did when you braced while lying down.
Extend one arm and the opposite leg in the air, reaching as far as you can with each limb without breaking the brace or neutral spine. Then switch arms and legs.
The goal: One set of 1-minute holds on each side. Start by doing three sets of 10-second holds on each side; add time with each workout, reducing sets as you are able.
Position yourself as if to do a push-up, except with your forearms flat on the ground. Your body should look the same in this horizontal position as it would if you were standing up — straight from the heels to the head. Avoid rounding your shoulders or lifting your rear end into the air.
“Planks are as easy or difficult as you make them,” Friedman says. “It’s based on the amount of tension you create internally. This plank is about being able to hold the position and make the most of it with the maximal amount of tension.”
Without moving, imagine your toes and elbows trying to reach each other. Tighten your abs, glutes and quads to create as much tension as you can.
The goal: Maintain a moderate level of tension for two minutes and a maximum level for 30 seconds — without holding your breath. Work up to that with different amounts of tension and lengths of time.
5. Side Plank
As with the standard plank, create the standing position, this time facing out with your body on a diagonal — one heel on the ground and the other stacked on top of it, hips raised, one forearm flat on the ground (bracing the shoulders) and the opposite hand on your hip.
“You’re working a different plane of stabilizing,” Friedman says.
Create tension by tightening your abs, glutes and quads while maintaining that perfect standing posture. Avoid dropping the hip or tilting the shoulders toward the head.
The goal: Maintain tension for 45 seconds without holding your breath. Work up to it with shorter times or, if needed, modify the position by creating the diagonal with your knees stacked on the ground (legs bent). When you can create and hold tension without breaking that position, extend the legs to do a full side plank.
Stay tuned for the next level of our core workout series, which builds on these stabilization exercises by adding motion and resistance.