By Diane Small
Fact: when your core is fit, it’s a lot easier for the rest of you to be. Your core stabilises your whole body, giving you better posture and form when you run, walk, lift weights, do yoga or just about any activity. And of course, who doesn’t want a honed and toned midriff, after all? A washboard-stomach is certainly an incentive, but aside from aesthetics, the health benefits of a strong core a many.
First of all, you’ll have better posture, which will help you breathe properly, improve your balance, appear more confident, younger and slimmer too – sitting up straight makes you look around 5lbs thinner.
Secondly, you’ll have a healthier back. With an estimated 75% to 85% of all Americans experiencing some form of back pain during their lifetime, ensuring your core muscles are strong and resilient may help to keep back pains at bay. In fact, even the way we sleep can have an effect on our posture, so it’s a good idea to opt for a highly supportive mattress like these ones from Eve, and sleep either on your side with your spine straight, or on your back.
Finally, if your core is strong, you can perform better in many sports. One of the first things my own personal trainer advised before I ran my first marathon was to strengthen my core. I was surprised, but ultimately, in those last miles of the race, I was grateful – my legs were exhausted, but my arms and core kept pumping, pushing me through! A strong core is also essential for weight lifting, yoga, and even every day walking.
So, how to get one? Here are six easy core exercises you can try just about anywhere, any time, no matter what your fitness level (but beware: 4 is a killer!)
1. The Classic Plank
The plank is another highly effective core exercise that is not only simple to execute, but also incredibly easy to incorporate when time is of the essence. For extra comfort, you may wish to do this on a yoga mat, but carpeted floor should work just as well. Lie on your stomach and push up onto your forearms, so that all your weight is resting on them. Keep your body in a straight line and hold position – this will work your glutes, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis as well as your oblique muscles.
2. Variations of the Classic Plank
If holding the normal version of a plank is torture to you, it’s because it is effectively working all the core’s surrounding muscles as well. Variations of the classic plank, such as the side plank and dolphin plank, will help you solidify your body strength in a new and different way. These yoga poses can give you an idea of what to do next time you’re at home with your yoga mat and up for a plank challenge. As these poses are quite advanced, take it slow and listen to your body – something to always keep in mind when practicing yoga.
3. Crunch Exercises
Never liked the normal crunches that stiffen up your neck? There are other types of crunches that are recommended to anyone building up their core strength. The Bird-Dog Crunch is a total-body workout, targeting your abs, hamstrings, glutes and shoulders. The key to this move is to stretch all the way out with your arm and opposing leg, as if grabbing something and pulling it close. Make sure you aren’t turning your hips – keep them squared and level as you complete a number of reps on each side.
4. Mountain Climbers
Although this position is technically in a plank, you are drawing your knees alternately into your chest at a moderate to fast speed. By increasing the intensity of the exercise, it puts a great cardiovascular spin on your typical stationary core workout. Simultaneously, it makes your arms and core work harder to support your leg movement. The key is to mix these in with stationary ab exercises – even though it may hurt a bit! See how to do this properly here.
5. Yoga Boat Pose
If you are a beginner, the boat will seem like a daunting exercise to try. Have no fear! What matters is your personal progress. To start, lie on your back and engage your core muscles to protect your lower back. Raise your knees to 90 degrees and slowly extend your arms and legs so that they are about 45 degrees off the ground. If you feel your abs, you’re doing it right! Be careful not to raise or arch your back during the exercise, otherwise you may hurt yourself.
6. Bird Dogs
This yoga pose is easy and kind of fun, too! Kneel down on all fours, then extend your right arm and left leg. Ensure the arm is at shoulder height and the leg is at hip height (not higher, or you could hurt your back). Hold, engaging your core, and then swap sides. Repeat 30 times.
To ensure you get the best out of your core exercise regime, switch up your routine every now and again. Pilates will make you stronger and more flexible and can easily be incorporated into your core workouts. For greater effect, combine this with cardio and strength exercises in variation. Yoga-centric poses, on the other hand, will provide a less intense – though equally difficult – alternative. And don’t forget to simply stand up straight and engage your core while sitting or standing: your body will thank you!
Main image: Howcast via Youtube