When I was a girl in my young teens I would routinely follow an exercise video for ab workouts or do 100 sit-ups or crunches every night before bed time. In admiration of models and athletes that had washboard abs, I thought that if I did these exercises I would look the same way.
I wasn’t aware of what my “core” muscles were back then but later on with research and new findings in exercise science, I am grateful to have a better understanding.
With the many miles that I put on my body through running and training long distance I have discovered the importance of training my core muscles.
In 2010 I trained for the Boston marathon .. I was in great shape to run until the end of my training when my back started to hurt. During the race my body fell apart completely and I was experiencing hip and back pain which obviously affected my performance. When I returned to NY, I went to see an Osteopath Dr. who told me I had a few bulging discs.
I always feel that injuries result in lessons that I learn through research.
I learned that developing our core muscles are essential for many reasons.
Whether you are a runner a cyclist or someone wanting to prevent back pain and developing a stronger core here are some of the benefits of developing your core
Benefits of Good Core Strength
- ~A Strong Core Reduces Back Pain: Abdominals get all the credit for protecting the back and the foundation of strength, but they are only a small part of what makes up the core. In fact, it is weak and unbalanced core muscles that are linked to low back pain. Weak core muscles result in a loss of the appropriate lumbar curve and a swayback posture. Stronger, balanced core muscles help maintain appropriate posture and reduce strain on the spine.
- ~A Strong Core Improves Athletic Performance: Because the muscles of the trunk and torso stabilize the spine from the pelvis to the neck and shoulder, they allow the transfer of power to the arms and legs. All powerful movements originate from the center of the body out, and never from the limbs alone. Before any powerful, rapid muscle contractions can occur in the extremities, the spine must be solid and stable, and the more stable the core, the most powerful the extremities can contract.
- ~A Strong Core Improves Postural Imbalances: Training the muscles of the core helps correct postural imbalances that can lead to injuries. The biggest benefit of core training is to develop functional fitness—the type of fitness that is essential to daily living and regular activities.
Lets get clear on what our core muscles are made up of:
The following list includes the most common core muscles as well as the lesser known groups:
Rectus abdominis: Located along the front of the abdomen, this is the most well-known abdominal muscle and is often referred to as the “six-pack” due to its appearance in fit and thin individuals.
Erector spinae: This group of three muscles runs along your neck to your lower back.
Multifidus: Located under the erector spinae along the vertebral column, these muscles extend and rotate the spine.
External obliques: Located on the side and front of the abdomen.
Internal obliques: Located under the external obliques, running in the opposite direction.
Transverse abdominis (TVA): Located under the obliques, it is the deepest of the abdominal muscles (muscles of your waist)and wraps around your spine for protection and stability.
Hip Flexors:Located in front of the pelvis and upper thigh.
A strong fit core helps improves your performance by doing a simple routine before your workout. It turns the core on and signals the brain to engage these muscles during activity. The same goes for whether you are you are lifting something heavy and you want to prevent back injury. Your core muscles will be turned on and strong enough to handle the force that your back will take.
I do a few key core exercises before my run every morning or before a strength workout. I feel much stronger and confident to be able to take on more force in my workouts since I’ve incorporated core work.
- Begin in the plank position with your forearms and toes on the floor or hands to the ground
- Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending.
- Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds to start.
- Over time work up to 30, 45 or 60 seconds.
- Lie on your side with your right hand on the ground or use an exercise mat. For beginners, it is recommended to begin this exercise on your elbow.
- Lift yourself up to form a plank with your right arm straight and your left arm on your side.
- Kneel on the floor with your hands firmly placed about shoulder width apart.
- Brace the abdominals, and at first, practice lifting one hand and the opposite knee just clear of the floor while balancing on the other hand and knee. Half an inch will do until you get the idea of it.
- When you’re ready to do the complete exercise, point the arm out straight in front and extend the opposite leg to the rear. The shoulders and the hips should be parallel.
- Hold for 10 seconds then return to your hands and knees to ground position.
- Starting out, try 5 repeats on alternate hands and knees, 10 repetitions in total. Add additional sets of 10 exercises up to 3 sets of 10.
- As a variation, you can do several bird dogs with one side and then do a set with just the other side.
- Keep the abs engaged while you change sides if you are doing alternating bird dogs. Work to minimize any extra motion during the weight shift.
Cat Cow for Spine Stability
1. Start on your hands and knees, aligning your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
2. Think of the spine as a straight line connecting the shoulders to the hips. Try visualizing the line extending forward through the crown of the head and backward through the tail bone. This is the position of a neutral spine.
3. Keep the neck long, as the natural extension of the spine.
1. Curl your toes under.2. Tilt your pelvis back so that your tail sticks up.
3. Let this movement ripple from your tailbone up your spine so that your neck is the last thing to move.
4. Your belly drops down, but keep your abdominal muscles hugging your spine by drawing your navel in.
5. Take your gaze up gently up toward the ceiling without cranking your neck.
1. Release the tops of your feet to the floor.2. Tip your pelvis forward, tucking your tailbone. Again, let this action move up your spine.
2. Your spine will naturally round.
3. Draw your navel toward your spine.
4. Drop your head.
5. Take your gaze to your navel.
Repeat the cat-cow stretch on each inhale and exhale, matching the movement to your own breath.
Continue for 5-10 breaths, moving the whole spine. After your final exhale, come back to a neutral spine.
To perform an abdominal V-Up, lie down on your back on the floor or on a gym mat and then extend your arms behind your head. The back of your hands should touch the floor while your palms face the ceiling. Keep your feet together and your toes pointed toward the ceiling. To begin the exercise, keep your legs straight and lift them up, and at the same time raise your upper body off of the floor and reach for your toes with your hands. Squeeze your abdominal muscles as you reach for you toes, and then slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position to finish the first repetition.
~Starting Position: Lie on your back on an exercise mat or the floor in a bent-knee position with your feet flat on the floor. Place your feet hip-width apart with the toes facing away from you. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your low back into the floor. Attempt to maintain this gentle muscle contraction throughout the exercise.
~Upward Phase: Gently exhale. Keep the abdominals engaged and lift your hips up off the floor. Press your heels into the floor for added stability. Avoid pushing your hips too high, which can cause hyperextension (arching) in your low back. Keeping your abdominals strong helps to prevent excessive arching in the low back.
~Lowering Phase: Inhale and slowly lower yourself back to your starting position.
~Progression: Gradually progress this exercise by starting with both feet together and extending one leg while in the raised position.
Avoid arching your low back as you press your hips upward, which normally occurs if you attempt to push your hips as high as possible. This can be achieved by contracting your abdominal muscles prior to lifting, and keeping them engaged throughout the lift
Photos By Nihura Montiel
Geometric Bra and Leggings from Live The Process