Looking fabulous, toned and healthy is a dream many of us have and many work hard towards – through sports and fitness and healthy eating we can get a great body, but it’s important not to neglect the trunk of our bodies – the supportive muscles that get the best performance from us.
Our core can often be overlooked with enthusiastic ideas of becoming the next best swimming legend or 100 metre runner, but if we start with our core, then everything else will follow.
Firstly, it’s good to know what makes up the core muscles. The core consists of your transverse abdominals, which are the deepest of the stomach muscles. They act like a strong belt and help with movements like twisting and flexing. The transverse abdominals protect the internal organs and link the upper and lower body.
The obliques are the muscles positioned slightly to the sides of the waist and link up to the rib cage. We have four of these muscles, with two on each side. These muscles help with twisting and tilting from the waist.
The six pack, as we all know it, is actually called the rectus abdominus and sits on top of the other stomach muscles. It works at keeping the pelvis in line which helps to protect the spine.
Having weak core muscles can contribute to poor posture, weakness in stability and injuries and pain in the lower back, so it’s important to take time to train your core muscles with a good workout.
Here are some top exercises you can do at the gym, or at home if you have some space.
The plank can be tough if you push yourself. It relies on you lying on the floor and then raising yourself up, leaning on your forearms with just your toes touching the floor. Keeping your spine straight, hold this position for as long as you can. To start with you will find you start shaking with the exertion if you’re not used to this one. It looks really easy, but it really is quite testing. If you get good at it, put your hands on the floor and push up with straight arms, holding this position for as long as you can.
2.The Side Bridge
Lying on your side, on a yoga mat or other soft surface, push yourself up and rest on your forearm, which can be flat on the floor. With the opposite arm, raise it into the air and reach upwards. Again, hold this position for as long as possible, and then swap sides and repeat.
Lying on your back put your arms flat down by your sides and raise both legs into the air either with bent knees or straight legs if you can manage it. From this position slowly allow your legs to drop towards the floor, without touching the floor. When they are about five inches from the ground, begin to raise them up again. This can feel very intensive and some may find it hard to start with.
The traditional sit up is a great exercise for the core. You can do variations on this classic, by lying on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, then raising your body with arms to your sides, lifting from your core and not your head, until your chin reaches towards your knees. You can also gently rest your hands behind your head and bring the opposite elbow to the opposite knee, which also gives you a nice twisting stretch.
Start by lying flat on your back with your hands down by your sides. Raise your knees up with your feet still flat on the floor and then slowly and gently peel your spine up off the floor little by little. Until just your shoulders, head and feet are on the floor. Hold this position for around 30 seconds and then gently lower back down. You can repeat this exercise as often as is comfortable.
Steady and controlled core work can really improve your stability and give you the best starting blocks to develop other areas of fitness. It is not an alternative to good cardio and strength work, but it really is an important addition which will quickly allow you to see the benefits in your level of fitness, as well as improvements in your body image. The best way to get that body you’ve dreamt of is to put in the hard work, and with good core stability you’ll get better muscle definition and you’ll easily see the beginnings of that elusive six pack. Your posture will be improved and you’ll walk taller, as well as run faster, swim stronger, and feel healthier all round.
by Kath Webb
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