You’ve probably heard how important it is to work on your core, but what exactly is your core? Laura McDonald, an ACE-certified personal trainer, explains that the core refers to the layers of muscles that surround your mid-section and are involved in every move we make. She says that the core acts as a link between the upper and lower body and, when it is not strong, we are prone to experiencing issues like back pain, poor spinal alignment, bad posture, hip and knee pains and even weight gain in the midsection. Laura points out that typical core exercises like crunches don’t work all of the necessary core muscles like the obliques, which are arranged diagonally, and the erector spinae which run up the length of the spine. Here are her favorite moves for strengthening all of the core muscle groups.
Laura’s Instructions: Get on your forearms and toes, placing your elbows directly underneath your shoulders, forearms extended forward and hands flat. Lift your body off the ground, keeping a straight line from head to heels. Imagine a big long board, or plank. Hold for at least 15 seconds, rest and repeat several times. Once you can successfully hold this several times, try adding on increments of 5-10 seconds until you can hold for a full minute.
Laura’s Instructions: Lie on your back, with your legs extended in the air and arms at your sides, palms flat (You can place your palms under your butt for more stability.) Slowly lower your legs toward the ground and lift back to the starting position. Go as low as you can without your back popping up. Bends your knees a little if you need to and keep abs engaged and back pressed into the ground. Repeat up to 10 times and add on more as you get stronger.
Side Plank Hip Dip
Laura’s Instructions: Lie on your left side with your knees straight and prop your upper body up on your left palm underneath your left shoulder. (Don’t let your head sink into your shoulder.) Brace your core by contracting your abs and raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Once stable, lower left hip towards ground and then raise back to start position. Switch sides. Repeat up to 10 times and add on more as you get stronger.
Laura’s Instructions: Lie on your back with your legs extended, feet flexed toward you and arms overhead. Inhale, then exhale as you roll up one vertebrae at a time, bone by bone, while looking towards your belly button and engaging the core muscles, reaching towards your toes. Keep your shoulders pulled away from your ears. As you reach the top of the move, create a C shape with your spine. Inhale, then exhale as you slowly lower back to the starting position, each vertebrae like a string of pearls, one bead at a time. If this is too difficult at first, bend knees slightly and grab behind thighs to assist you.
Laura’s Instructions: I love this kickboxing style move. Stand in a staggered position with your left leg out a few feet in front of your right leg. Raise arms overhead and imagine grabbing someone/something by the head and “smashing” it down towards your right knee as you drive your right knee and hands towards each other. Keep your hips tucked in a little, engage the core and inhale when arms are overhead, exhale as you smash. Repeat 20 times and switch sides. Build up more reps when you’re ready.