The CORE of Fitness.
Let's just get right down to it, what is the CORE of fitness? Well, to put it simply, your CORE is. In my training career (and even as a teacher/coach) I would need many more fingers and toes to be able to tell you how many questions I get about core strength. However, what typically must be addressed first is teaching those that ask just what all is included within our "core" strength. Hint: It's not JUST your abdominal muscles. It starts below the chest, so yes, the abdominal muscles are included, but it also includes your back, hip flexors, glute muscles and your ab-/ad-ductor muscles of the legs (the muscles that allow the leg to move away, and back to, your body). More than you thought, eh?
But why work all that if we just want "abs". First I will remind you of last week's post, abs are made in the kitchen. That being said of course it's important that we establish a strong core. Your core DOES. IT. ALL. Every move you make begins in your core. This is where your body stabilizes itself so when you step over the toy in the hallway while holding the laundry basket or when you are standing on the ladder stringing Christmas lights, you don't fall over! Pretty important that core. And even better, the stronger your core the more power and stamina your body will be able to provide you throughout the day. I'm not even talking about throughout your workouts, I'm just talking about everyday tasks, everyday movements, of course having a strong core is going to be a mega bonus during a workout.
How do we build a strong core? Crunches? No. Don't get me wrong, I do crunches, my clients do crunches, or some variation thereof, but for me personally, and for what I have my clients do, the core is being worked in about every single exercise that is done. (Shhh...don't tell my clients that though.) 😉
Here are some of my favorite/go-to core moves that are sure to spike the heart rate (hello fat burn) and strengthen the ENTIRE core.
Trainer Tips: When getting in position place your hands on the ground/floor in line with your chest, wrists in line with shoulders. So many times people have their hands too far out in front. This places stress/tension on the upper back (think traps & rhomboids, not to mention the neck) and takes away from the core which is where we want the focus. Drive one knee forward as much under the chest as possible keep hips down, jump and switch legs. You can take the jump out and do the knee drive with a toe tap as a modification. Repeat right and left switches.
Kettle Bell Swing
Trainer Tips: Before I say anything else let me say this. FORM IS SO IMPORTANT! In all moves really but I cannot stress it enough with the kettle bell swing. You do not want to hurt your back here so please be sure form is spot on when you do it and that you are not swinging too much weight. Place your feet just outside of shoulder width apart, knees soft, not bent or locked straight. The swing of the kettle bell comes from the momentum of the hip drive, NOT from your arms, your arms are merely a pendulum for the force to ride along. As you bring the weight (you can use a dumbbell too) through the legs be sure the feet are not externally rotating. Push the hips back and bring the kettle bell back through my legs my (my head should be in neutral spine, looking at the ground) be sure to keep your back very straight, abdominals are engaged. Thrust the hips forward bringing the kettle bell parallel to floor, even with your shoulders. Squeeze the glutes and abdominals as you thrust the hips forward.
"On the Floor" Core
Advanced Donkey Kick
Trainer Tips: The Donkey Kick is a great move to work the glute muscles while also engaging the abdominals and low back. Start on hands and knees, flex the foot, drive knee to chest and kick the leg back and up like you are trying to push the sky/ceiling up with the heel of your foot. Squeeze the glute muscles at the top of the movement. Keep the abdominal muscles engaged throughout the movement. For the "Advanced Donkey Kick" I used my Ugi ball and raised my knees off the floor to shake up the stability. This will require far more engagement of the abdominals and low back in order to stay balanced throughout the movement.
Trainer Tips: Lay on stomach, head down in neutral spine. Raise arms and legs together using the low back, as if you are trying to lift your chest and thighs up off the floor at the same time. Lower down, but do not let the arms and legs completely come back to the floor, rise again.
"Strength Train" & Core
Overhead Weighted Lunge
Trainer Tips: Just like propping up on the ball in the donkey kick, holding a weight (or even the arms alone) overhead while performing your lunge will create an entirely new element for your core. Without getting into the specifics of the physics behind it all, you are putting your core to work more because now you need more stabilization as you move through the exercise, enter your core. This can be performed as a walking lunge, a forward/backward moving lunge or as a split squat (stationary lunge). Hold the weight overhead lower into the lunge position (weight through your front heel, knee over ankle, at least behind the front toes, lower back knee to just above the ground) rise back up. Repeat on same leg or alternate sides.
Planks for the Core
Plank/Side Plank/Side Plank Dip
Trainer Tips: Elbows should be in line with your shoulders, forearms parallel, hands flat on floor or in fists, not clasped together. The farther apart the feet the "easier" your plank will be so position yourself to be challenging for you. Look just in front of fingers to keep head in neutral spine, back and hips in line. Your butt should almost look flat in a good plank position.
Trainer Tips: Align elbow with shoulder, don't let it be out in front, it will put that same stress on the body as was discussed with mountain climbers. Hips up high. Top arm can be down, or up as pictured with gaze at hand for increased difficulty. For the dip lower the hips down and raise back up. Feet can be stacked or both on floor for a slightly modified version.
This is just a taste of what all can be done to increase/maintain your core strength. There are many more exercises and even many variations to the ones I chose to show so no need to ever get "bored" doing your core exercises. I encourage you to not only do exercises that are "core specific" but to also add more complex exercises in your workouts that target your core along with the arm and/or legs, this is where the fun exists. 😉
What are some of your favorite core exercises?
*Disclaimer: I am a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist licensed through the National Strength & Conditioning Association, please consult your doctor before beginning any new workouts/exercises into your training.*