To properly train your core, you have to know why you need to strengthen it in the first place. Gold’s Gym fitness expert Adam Friedman says it has nothing to do with having six-pack abs.
The core is a set of muscles and connective tissues that work to provide stability and ability for the spine and pelvis — bones that protect the central nervous system.
“If there’s not enough stability — or too much — around a joint, another joint will compensate for it,” Friedman says. “That can stress a disk, which could push on a nerve, and now you have back pain.
“Think of the core as making your central nervous system feel safe,” he says. “If the spinal cord feels safe, it’s more likely to give love to your extremities to produce force and give you strength.”
The first level
Concentrate on your breathing and posture; being mindful of both will help you engage your core muscles even before you begin to move. “Develop an endurance about maintaining those first,” Friedman says. “That will dictate whether or not you can do bigger movements.”
When standing, there are two points that will tell you if your body is in alignment.
- Assess and align: Place two fingers on the most prominent part of your breastbone. Place another two on your pubic bone. You should feel the two points lined up vertically — in other words, if there were a board connecting the two, it wouldn’t be leaning forward or backward. If aligned, you’ve got proper posture, and you will immediately begin to feel your core muscles activated.
- Maintain: Try to keep proper posture for four minutes straight. If you notice yourself slouching, pretend there’s a string connected to the top of the back of your head and give it a tug. Think also about spreading your shoulders to try to touch the outsides of them to walls (but do not pinch your shoulder blades together).
- Reminders: Set periodic daily alerts on your phone to remind you to sit or stand up straight.
Proper breathing involves the diaphragm, the muscle located at the base of the lungs. If the diaphragm isn’t properly engaged, the core won’t work as efficiently.
- Assess: Place one hand on the chest and one hand on the belly. Take a breath; notice which hand rises first. If it’s the chest, that’s an improper pattern and you’re not making use of your lung capacity.
- Practice: Lying face down, put your hands underneath your face in a triangle shape with your nose in the middle. Take a breath. You should feel your belly press into the ground and your sides expanding. Do this for a minute, one or two times per day.
Core moves for beginners
Be mindful of your posture and breathing as you do these exercises.
Lie on your back with knees bent in a sitting position. With your feet firmly planted, slowly tilt the pelvis to initiate the raise of the hips and spine. Lift off the ground one vertebra at a time from the tailbone to the top of the shoulders. Reverse, slowly, back to the starting position.
“Gaining segmental control at each vertebra is deep-level core control,” Friedman says.
Cat and cow
Start in a quadruped position – on your hands and knees – and hold a neutral spine for a few seconds. Arch the spine upward (cat), and then return to the neutral position. Then arch the spine downward (cow). Return to neutral spine. Repeat while focusing on breathing.
Stay tuned next month for movements that work the glutes, intermediate-level core exercises and more workout tips from our fitness experts.