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Everyone knows that core exercises are important, but at the same time it seems like core work is the most hated part of any workout routine. For that reason, it’s also the most frequently skipped. Having a strong core is important for everybody. If you want to go through life without low back pain, core work is needed (especially if you sit at work all day). If you want to deadlift 300lbs, a strong core will help you brace properly and keep your spine in line as you move the weight. If you want to run a sub-4 hour marathon, a strong core will help you move the most efficiently. If you love to go out dancing with your friends every weekend, a strong core will let you stay on your feet longer and pull off cooler moves and tricks. In short, it’s good for everyone!
Core work doesn’t have to include only the boring basics like sit-ups and crunches. In fact, I’d advocate against those exercises in most cases. We use a rotating group of core exercises for our Strength Lab members that I’ll show you below. We typically have members train their core directly twice a week, with some easier movements daily.
A key concept to remember: the core does NOT just mean abdominals! Your core consists of the entire lumbopelvic hip complex: abdominals, glutes, hips, lumbar spine, and pelvis. We must train all of the muscle groups of the core to get the most balance and stability for our daily life and athletic pursuits. The following exercises cover several of these muscle groups, and put together will be a great place to start increasing your core strength.
We all know it, most of us don’t love it, but the benefits of the plank outweigh how tough they are! We encourage all kinds of planks: starting with holding the high push-up position. Be sure to keep your spine in one straight line (like a plank of wood) vs. letting your low back and glutes sag or trying to compensate by raising your hips up. Squeeze your glutes through the whole movement for best results! Once you can hold a high plank for a full 60 seconds, it’s time to move on to the forearm plank. Eventually, you’ll start adding weight to the movement!
The Glute Bridge
You could probably guess, but this one is all about strengthening the glutes. For those of you that sit through the majority of the day, you may have noticed that it’s hard to really feel your glutes working while you’re working out. That’s a big problem given that the glutes are some huge powerhouse muscles! Ideally, you’ll feel them working whether you’re on the elliptical, doing squats, or sweating through a Bootcamp class. The glute bridge is simple: lie down on your back with your knees bent and soles of the feet flat on the floor. Toes should be pointed straight forward, feet about shoulder width apart. You will then raise your hips up until they are completely extended and you’ll squeeze your glutes as hard as you can! Repeat for at least 10 reps.
This is a favorite of ours: a slightly more difficult version of the Dead Bug exercise that does a great job at teaching the brace. Lie on your back with your head 1-2 inches from a wall. Place your palms on the wall, raise your head and shoulders off the floor, and pull your knees in towards your chest. While pressing your low back down into the floor, you will extend one leg all the way out while pulling the other knee into your chest. Alternate at least 8 times. The key here is pressing your back into the ground the entire time! The feeling we’re creating with this exercises is the same feeling we’re trying to achieve while bracing.
The Pallof Press
This exercise trains anti-rotation of the core: meaning you’ll be able to keep your core stable and in line when something is trying to turn you around or side-to-side, like running. Grab a band and attach it to the rack at sternum height. You’ll take a few steps out to the side, assume an athletic position while bracing your core and squeezing your glutes, and pull the band out to your chest. The movement starts when you then press the band out directly in front of you. You’ll feel the band trying to rotate your body toward the rack, but you’ll resist it by engaging your core. This one really stresses the obliques as well. You can either do longer holds (20+ seconds) on each side, or do shorter hold reps (10+ per side).
Band X Walk
This final exercise is also working the glutes, but more specifically the gluteus medius, a small muscle on the outside of the hip that helps create stability in your knees. Place a band under your feet, cross the band and pull it up to shoulder height to make an X. Get into an athletic position: slight squat, knees pushed out in line with the toes, braced core. Then start taking side steps, really focusing on using the outside hip to “push-off.” Take at least 12 steps in each direction. This one burns!
I hope you can implement at least a few of these in your training!