We’ve all been in a yoga, Pilates, circuit training, or boxing class when the instructor says (over and over), “engage your core muscles.” We immediately clench our tummies (er, hold our breath) and try our best to engage. But are we doing it right? What is this engaging doing exactly? And if I clench hard enough will I get those 6-pack abs?
We’re here to fill you in on the benefits of core training and the top five moves to increase core strength.
What is the core, really?
The core, also known as the “powerhouse” in Pilates, is the foundation for all movement and provides the upper and lower limbs with the power to execute movement efficiently.
This group of muscles (front, side, and back of your abdomen) is incorporated in almost every movement of the body. When we think of the core, we may just think of the superficial layer which involves the rectus abdominals and external obliques, however there are deeper layers to the core which include the transverse abdominals, internal obliques, multifidus, pelvic floor, and diaphragm.
These muscles play a key role in maintaining strength, mobility of the spine, stabilization of the pelvis, providing internal pressure for biological functions and adding an axis of power for the kinetic chain. We should aim to train the core in all three planes of motion.
Benefits of Core Training
Core training has many benefits. It can improve your posture, balance, and help you gain greater coordination when training regularly. It will also help you execute exercises confidently and ultimately improve your athletic ability.
Sadly, many of us have become highly sedentary, so certain core muscles may have become inactive. If our core muscles become too inactive, they’re unresponsive when we need them (like bending down to pick up a box or picking up your kids) leading to muscular imbalances. To avoid this from developing, make sure your training plan involves core training.
Add these exercises below to your training to help build your core strength and stamina. You’ll improve your core stability and coordination, as well as build a foundation of technique and body awareness. No equipment needed!
TOP 5 MOVES
Repeat this sequence 2 to 3 times through and either modify or introduce the progression.
30-60 seconds on each side
Come down onto your hands and knees in an all fours position on your mat. Make sure your hips are stacked over your knees and your hands are directly underneath your shoulders. Engage your core and maintain a strong flat back.
Extend your right leg back, keeping your hips parallel to the mat and pointing the toe. At the same time lift the left arm (opposite arm to the extended leg) forward.
From this position, pull the right knee in towards your chest, whilst pulling the left arm in to meet the right knee.
Modification: Keep the hands placed down and complete the leg extension.
Progression: You could place a stability pad or Pilates ball under the base of the hand which stays on the floor, for an additional core challenge.
Plank on elbows with oblique knee pull
30-60 seconds on each side
Come down onto your hands and knees in an all fours position on your mat. Drop down onto both of your elbows, making sure your elbows are directly underneath your shoulders. Step each foot back to come into plank position and think of creating a straight line from your head to your heels.
Pull your right knee up towards your right elbow and then move the foot back into a plank position.
Modification: You can take out the knee pull and hold plank position.
Progression: You can increase the reps on each leg for an additional core challenge.
Side Plank hold on elbow with rotation
30-60 seconds on each side
Lay on your right side, using your right elbow with your hips stacked and knees together. Lift your hips off the mat so you come into a side plank and lift the left arm up towards the ceiling.
Bring your left arm through and thread in-between your waist and the mat and then open up to the ceiling again.
Modification: You can do the same movement but come down onto your knees so you are in a half side plank.
Progression: To progress you can either increase the reps or add a hand weight to the extended arm. I recommend using a light hand weight so you can nail the technique and still keep the focus on your core.
Double leg lower & lift with crunch
Lay on your back with your legs extended up towards the ceiling. Place your hands on the back of your head and think of opening the chest and keeping the elbows pulled back. Slowly lower your legs down towards the mat but try to avoid arching your back and only take your legs as low as you can manage without arching. Slowly lift the legs back up towards the ceiling and lift your shoulder blades off the mat to come into a crunch.
Modification: To modify you can keep one foot firmly placed on the ground and lower and lift the right leg and then switch onto the left leg.
Progression: To progress you can either increase the amount of repetitions or add a challenge to the exercise by using a dumbbell. Hold the dumbbell above your chest by holding each end of the weight and complete the exercise as is. This will incorporate your upper body into the movement and will help to build strength in your arms.
Cross Body Mountain Climbers
Come down onto your hands and knees in an all fours position on your mat. Step both your feet back into a high plank position on your hands.
Pull your right knee across your body towards your left elbow and then move your foot back into the starting position and then switch to the left leg.
Modification: To modify you can either hold a high plank or you can pull the knees straight forward to help avoid any rotation and twisting of the torso.
Progression: To progress this exercise you can move at a quicker tempo so you add speed to the exercise. This will help to elevate your heart rate and add an element of cardio to the sequence.