The core is a circular system that involves a multitude of muscles that work together to stabilize the spine and support internal organs. Without getting into too much detail, let's look at the Transverse Abdominals (TVA) muscles that are responsible for a flat stomach and a strong back.
These deep stabilizing muscles support the internal organs such as your liver, colon and stomach and stabilize your spine when lifting a load. They are not muscles you can see; they lie beneath the superficial "six pack" also know as the rectus abdominis. The reason I say superficial is because they rectus abdominis muscles are the top layer of muscles which you can see and touch. Their role is important ( flexion and some stabilization of the trunk), but they do not have as much responsibility as the TVA.
If you were to recall your movements for the day, do you notice that you are always leaning forward? Think about your posture while you are texting, cooking, eating, using the computer, attending to your children, etc. Our movements are like doing mini crunches daily. And then what do we do? We go to the gym and do 300 hundred more crunches to strengthen our core.
More forward moving motions are not the answer. If you want to strengthen your core correctly, here are three exercises for you to do over a six week period. If you are a beginner, take it slow and build up to the recommended repetitions and sets. Perhaps start with one set of each exercise then build up to two and then three. If you do too much too fast, you are more susceptible to injury. So here goes!
Exercise #1 - Activating your Transverse Abdominis
Before you can begin to do more challenging exercises, it is important to understand how to activate your transverse abdominals (TAV). Remember, these muscles are responsible for stabilizing your spine and supporting your internal organs. To do this exercise, stand on all fours, inhale and let your belly fall to the floor.
Exhale every bit of air out and bring your belly button towards the spine as much as possible without arching your back or moving your head.
Okay great, you got it! Perform this exercise by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through pursed lips as though you are blowing out a candle. Take 30 deep breaths.
Surprisingly, many people cannot do this exercise for varying reasons, one being that have learned dysfunctional breathing patterns. Please do not try any of the exercises below until you can do the first exercise correctly. And, if you are working out with weights and cannot activate your TVA, it's a good idea to stop weight training and build a solid foundation first.
Exercise #2 - Prone Hold
Start by laying prone on the ground. Tuck your toes under and align your elbows under your shoulders. Keep legs together. Before lifting, engage buttocks. When lifting, work on keeping a neutral spine by bringing the belly button towards the spine while breathing out. Hold for five seconds and come back down for two seconds. Build up to three sets of ten repetitions.
Exercise #4 - Swimmer
Lay prone on the floor, extend your arms and legs with your head in alignment (do not look up). Lift right arm and left leg together and then left arm and right leg together. Do this motion quickly as though you were swimming. Do this for 45 seconds to one minute. Repeat two more sets with one minute break in between.
Do these exercises every other day (providing there is no pain) for six-week period. After, you can build on these exercises by incorporating a stability or Bosu ball to make the exercises more challenging. Good luck to all and remember, you are only as strong as your weakest link!