Your “core” is a term used for the muscles that help protect your spine these include the traverse abdominis, erector spinae, obliques and lower lats. The core is made up of more than what we refer to as a “six pack” and you should carry out exercises that target your entire core in order to see better results quicker.
Whilst performing any exercise including cardiovascular and functional tasks you should focus on tightening your core in a way that is known as abdominal bracing (the act of stiffening ones abdominal muscles). Abdominal bracing is identified as one of the most effective techniques to stabilise the core and prevent back injury, bracing actually occurs naturally in healthy active individuals during movement.
To brace your core whilst standing you should stand up straight, and ensure your hips, knees and toes are aligned and all pointing forwards, be sure not to stick your chest out or lift your chin up. Take a deep breath in and you should feel your diaphragm contract as air is drawn into the lungs like a vacuum. You should then tighten your abs to around 10% of maximum contraction and breathe out whilst holding this tension. You may notice that the muscles in your bum become tighter, this is because they are working with the core to stabilise your spine and hips.
It is important to incorporate core exercises into your training programme because these train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work simultaneously together improving balance during sports performance and everyday movement. When you work your core you are also working the back side of your body and not just the front muscle groups like in standard ab training. This doesn’t mean to say that just working your abs is pointless, before you work your deeper core you should focus on strengthening your abs, this way you will see results quicker and will find it easier to complete more complex core exercises as your abdomen muscles get stronger.
By achieving core stability you will protect your spine and surrounding structure from injury, you will also see an improvement in your posture and you will become less injury prone. The core should be trained progressively by selecting exercises based on increasing amounts of core contribution. It is also important to include variation into your exercises in order to target each of the muscle groups that build up your core and to prevent boredom. The plank is a good exercise to begin with, you can try to hold it for as long as possible and aim to beat your record over time or you can incorporate sets and reps and slowly increase the rep count. To progress the plank exercise you could try side planking, the side plank not only works the main core muscles but also secondary muscles including the gluteus minimus in the hips and the adductor muscles in the inner thigh.
Remember, a strong core leads to better posture, better balance and protects you from injury, you’ll also see those six pack results!
By Charlotte Keenan 28/2/2017