For the last year, I have been frequenting physical therapy. Yup. Physical Therapy. What happened to me? I turned 40 years old last year, and everything seemed to be falling apart. It all started with intense numbness and pain in my hands when I ran – diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome. But I don’t sit at a desk typing all day. How did this happen? On top of that I injured my foot in April, and I have been having to get additional work done at the therapist. Fast forward throughout this year, and physical therapy has really helped. My therapist has helped me realize that not only has my driving and posture caused these symptoms, but that my active lifestyle of running may also have contributed to the problem. She has helped me learn how to integrate routine stretching into my workout routine. But more recently, she has helped me uncover the potential cause of my problems – a weak core. While I have realized this all along, I never realized that this weak core could be the cause of so many other problems. Who knew?! It’s time to attack the problem head on and develop a stronger core through a routine of core strength exercises. Here’s my plan for the next 4 months – get stronger from the inside out!
Why Focus on the Core?
Many hear the word core and they instantly think abdominals. But the core is so much more (ha!). The core involves the abs, the back, the glutes, the hips, and the pelvic floor. It is the foundation of your entire body. I love this description of the core from Breaking Muscle – “Think of developing your core stability as pouring the concrete base for your home. This base provides structure and safety. It also cannot be rushed or overlooked. You wouldn’t build a home on soggy ground because your house would sink or fall apart. The same can be said for your body when it comes to developing your core.”
So what are the muscles involved in the core? It’s so much more than the abs, which makes a core strengthening routine much more involved. The core includes the following, which is outline beautifully by Thank Your Body:
- Transverse Abdominis (TA) – the deepest of your abdominal muscles, lies under your obliques
- External Obliques – located on the side and front of your abdomen, around your waist
- Internal Obliques – lie under your external obliques, and run in the opposite direction
- Rectus Abdominis – a long muscle that extends along the front of your abdomen. This is the ‘six-pack’ part of your abs that becomes visible with reduced body fat
- Iliopsoas – this muscle’s primary role is hip flexion, but because of its deep relationship to both the legs, spine, and diaphragm it can help coordinate the core, especially when complex movement is involved.
- Pelvic floor muscles primarily the levator ani, the coccygeus.
- Multifidus which stabilizes a number of vertebrae in the spine.
- Erector spinae including the longissimus thoracis also stabilize the spine.
- Thoracic diaphragm which helps control breathing.
Top 5 Core Strength Exercises for Beginners
Once you realize the core is more than just the abs, you realize that crunches aren’t going to get it done. We have to strengthen all of the muscles above to develop a strong core, a strong foundation for our body to thrive. As a new mother of 2 and having recently had a baby, my core is incredibly weak, which is very hard to hear as I consider myself very fit and strong. So, from now until the end of the year, I am making a commitment to spend more time strengthening my core through these core strength exercises.
- Tummy Vacuums – These are great for beginners and help strengthen the transverse abdominus. Such a simple exercise of cat/cow from yoga, this is essential for new moms or anyone who sits for a majority of the day and doesn’t call on these muscles to work that often. While on all fours (tabletop position), call on your abdominal muscles to pull your tummy up into your back, creating a vacuum.
- Clam Shells – These are tremendous exercises for our largest muscle group, our glutes. Laying on your side with your knees bent, open your knees apart keeping your feet together. This will illicit the clamshell movement and work your glutes out!
- Dead Bugs – So simple, yet so effective. The opposite of the bird dog, they are super simple to do. Laying on your back with your knees up in a 90 degree angle, extend one leg at the same time as extending the opposite arm.
- Yoga Boat – Ooh, I have a love/hate relationship with holding a boat pose. It is so hard, but so effective. And it is one of the best exercises to activate the rectus abdominus and obliques. Sit on the floor with your knees bent. Brace your abdomen, slightly lean your torso back while lifting your feet off the floor. Lift until your shins are parallel with the floor, your back is straight and your hips are flexed to ninety degrees. Extend your arms forward to a comfortable position to help maintain your balance. Hold here for at least thirty seconds.
- Bird Dog – Probably my favorite core exercise of all time, the bird dog may be the most effective. It works on so many aspects of your core at once, and calls on your glutes and shoulders as well. Best of all, you can do it anywhere. While on all fours, extend one leg out completely while extending the opposite arm. Alternate sides and complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
Are you looking to get stronger in your core? Do you have back pain or unexplained chronic pain, despite working out regularly? You may need to start from the inside out, and try out these core strength exercises.
Download the Focused on Fit app, track your workout for a week, and see what you learned. If you feel comfortable, share it in the comments below. We want to help!