“How do I tighten my core?” “How do I get my flat stomach back?” Here at YES Fitness, specializing in coaching people 40+ we hear these questions all the time.
What is “Core?” The definition of core is: the central or most important part of something. When people think about the core they get the vision of “6 pack abs”. There are many more muscles that make up the core. Without naming all the muscles just think of it as the muscles that run from just below your arm pits to the top of your knees; front, side, and back of the body.
How can something so important be so confusing and mis-informative? Everywhere you turn you see another crazy exercise on a device that is just going to sit under your bed to collect dust.
Let’s try to simplify it for you with a few concepts and exercises so you can quickly recognize those exercises that will give you the biggest bang for the buck.
Speaking broadly, you have four core stability exercise categories: anterior core stability, posterior core stability, lateral core stability, and rotary core stability.
Anterior core stability exercises teach the body to resist excessive lumbar spine extension (arching or sagging of the lower back). It encompasses a variety of exercises, starting with basic prone bridges/planks in a static position. When properly prepared, individuals can progress all the way up to more dynamic, advanced exercises like stability ball roll outs and TRX fall outs.
Let’s begin with the basic plank position, in which you will have your forearms and toes on the floor. With any plank exercise keep your torso straight and rigid, and your body in a straight line from your ears with no sagging or bending. Your head should be relaxed and you should be looking at the floor. Hold this position for 10 seconds to start and work your way up to 30, 45, or 60 seconds.
You can progress the plank with a single leg plank, as well as a single arm plank.
Single Leg Plank
Single Arm Plank
You can then begin to implement some devises for an Ultimate Sandbag Tall Kneel Press Out, TRX Plank, or a stability ball plank.
USB Tall Kneel Press out
Stability Ball Plank
Once you have mastered static exercises you can progress to more dynamic ones; ValSlide Push Away, TRX Jackknife, or stability ball stir the pot. There will be a noticeable increase in difficulty. Be sure to keep your form! Do not let your hips “sag” or look like a “banana”. Keep your thighs and buttocks tight, abs stiff. If you exhale hard through pursed lips you can feel the whole core engage.
There are two basic positions to consider. The first position the upper-body/arms will be the stationary anchor point. The lower-body/feet will be moving or on an unstable surface. The other position is the opposite; the lower-body/legs are the static anchor point and the upper-body/arms are either moving or on an unstable surface. The first three examples will demonstrate stationary upper body exercises; Plank w/Hip Abduction/Adduction, TRX Saw, and Stability Ball Jackknife. The last three examples will demonstrate stationary lower-body exercises; Super Plank, Stability Ball Stir the Pot, and ValSlide Push Away.
Stationary Upper-body Exercises
Plank with Hip Abduction/ Adduction
Start in a basic plank position. Without moving your hips step both feet out, then bring back to the starting position.
Start in a basic plank position with your feet in the TRX without sagging your hips move your body back and forth in a saw-like motion.
Stability Ball Jackknife
Start in a tall plank position with your legs elevated on a stability ball then drive your knees in towards your chest.
Stationary Lower-body Exercises
Start in a basic plank position, without moving your hips raise your body up into a tall plank position, moving one arm at a time.
Stability Ball Stir the Pot
Starting in a basic plank position with your elbows on the stability ball slowly move your arms in a circular motion as if you were “stirring a pot.”
Start with your knees bent and elbows on the slides as if you were in a plank position. Extend your body out, pushing your arms up over your head while bringing your hips with you. Do not let your hips sag.
The previous core exercises addressed strengthening the core with anti-extension, or not letting your hips or back sag. The core also needs to be trained to resist excessive lumbar flexion, or rounding of the lower back. Yes, this means no crunches or reverse curls. There is a plethora of research on the harmful effects of spinal flexion. The posterior core consists of the muscles in the back ranging from your shoulders to your knees. The posterior core stability exercises include the bird dog, double leg hip bridge, single leg hip bridge, and all the way up through more conventional strength training exercises like deadlift variations.
While doing a bird dog be sure to keep the lower back in it’s neutral position.
Double Leg Hip Bridge
Focus on tightening your glutes to avoid your hips from sagging or over extending the back.
Single Leg Hip Bridge
This is a progression from the double leg hip bridge. Focus on keeping your hips from sagging or twisting.
Kettlebell Deadlift (Starting position)
The key is to keep the back in a neutral spine position throughout the motion.
Kettlebell Deadlift (Ending position)
Be sure to stand tall, don’t round forward or arch back.
USB Step back Single Leg Deadlift
Maintain good core stabilization, do not allow the lumbar spine to round.
After addressing strengthening the core with anti-extension (not letting your hips or back sag) and anti-flexion (or rounding of the low back), the core also needs to be trained to resist lateral flexion or to avoid leaning to the side or the spine bending to the side. These drills may start with basic side planks/bridging drill and progress all the way up through more advanced 1-arm carrying variations.
When doing a Side Plank make sure your shoulders and hips are stacked. Don’t let your hips sag.
Single Arm Bottoms Up Kettle Bell Rack Walk
When doing this keep a 90 degree angle at your elbow and shoulder joint. Walk in this position for a designated distance.
Single Arm Farmers Carry