Building a strong core is not just about getting great abs. I mean, abs are made in the kitchen, right? The core is not just your abs, but the whole cylinder of your torso – so it includes your back muscles on either side of your spine as well. The core is important not just for that #morningabs instagram shot, but also for all sports. Your limbs come off your core, so any sport involving the limbs (which is pretty much everything!) requires a good stable core.
Whether you’re a cardio bunny or a gym shark, a strong core is needed. If you’re a runner, your legs come off your core, and having a stable core allows you to run with more control and efficiency. If you’re a weightlifter, you need a strong core for lifting weights overhead for balance and stability.
Sit-ups and planks
I have been doing sit-ups since I was about 12. The Spice Girls were at the height of their career, and I had heard that Posh and Becks do 500 sit-ups a night, so I decided I should do the same. I know, I was so impressionable then! If you are doing sit-ups, don’t put your feet under the bed, because you are then using your hip flexors to help you get up. You use your core more if you place your feet on the ground without any resistance against them.
Yoga and pilates are known for being good for your core, and I will certainly share some of my favourite yoga poses that are great for the core, but there are many other exercises you can do without having to go to a yoga studio. Of course doing a simple plank, side plank and other plank variations are all great exercises to do, but I hope this post will give you a few extra ideas to try!
Start by lying down and lifting your legs about 5cm off the ground and see how long you can keep your legs up for. You can place your hands beneath your sacrum (tail bone) to give your lower back some support. This is an exercise I love and have used for a long time.
The pose in the photo above is a variation of boat pose in yoga, which is similar to a V-up which you may have done at the gym. You create a V shape, and try and get your torso and legs as close together as possible. We traditionally have our arms facing forward, but give it a go with opening your arms out, which requires a bit more core control.
As your body lifts even higher, you may be able to grab your toes. This requires both core strength and flexibility. Using your second and third fingers you may be able to grab your big toes – this pose is called ubhaya padangusthasana. It requires a lot of control, and is great for strengthening your core! A lot of people think yoga is just for ladies who lunch who feel like having a bit of a stretch, but a lot of the poses (especially in Ashtanga yoga) are difficult and you need to be strong! Don’t knock it till you try it!
TRX / suspension training
I love suspension training. The fact that you are swinging adds an element of instability, which makes any exercise harder. Your body must be strong to control the excess swing so that you can smoothly execute your movements. There are several core exercises you can do on the TRX.
Firstly, put both feet in the loops and walk your hands forward into a high plank position. This may be enough for you at first. You can also do some push ups with your feet in the TRX, which works the core as well as your chest and arms. Once you are stronger, you can do some pikes on the TRX, which involves you shooting your hips to the sky and making an upside down V-shape. Keep your back and legs straight and really squeeze your core when you make your V-shape.
This may be a case of Chinese whispers and I have no idea whether this statistic is based on any evidence, but a personal trainer, who heard it from a physio, once told me that you need adequate core strength to lift 20% of your body weight above your head. I don’t know about the 20% bit, but yes, you definitely need a good core to do any sort of overhead weight-lifting. Your core muscles have to work hard to stabilise your body when you are lifting a weight overhead. It’s different to if you were doing bench press, for example, where your body is supported lying down, and you are just moving your upper body.
The wider the grip, the easier it is on both the core and shoulders. Doing a close grip overhead squat becomes harder because you have a narrower fulcrum. As your grip gets closer, you can imagine that it gets harder to balance your barbell. This requires you to have strong shoulder stability, so it’s a fantastic exercise for strengthening both your core and shoulder stabilisers.
To make it even harder, cross your hands over! To do the overhead squats with your hands crossed over, try it with just a 20kg barbell without any weight on. Trust me, it’s harder than it looks! I’ll be uploading a video of me demonstrating this exercise on my instagram @mindbodymiko tomorrow for you to look out for!
I am all about cross-training. There are so many benefits to different exercises, that it’s arrogant to just pick one exercise and dismiss the others. Weight lifters would benefit from yoga, yogis would benefit from weights, and runners would benefit from both yoga and weightlifting!
A lot of people like to label themselves as one thing – I’m a “gym junkie” or a “yogi”. Yes, I generally consider myself a yogini because it’s not just about me doing poses, it’s part of my daily lifestyle… but I don’t just limit myself to doing yoga. I love going to the gym, running, kick boxing, swimming…. the activities are endless. Let’s all get active, try something you’ve never tried before, and definitely include some core workouts in there!!
Happy (core) training,