Abs of Steel! Check out this hard core workout…

Engage your core, belly button towards your spine, zip up your core… you many have heard people mention these phrases on numerous occasions but what do they actually mean and what’s the big deal?!

Here’s my quick and very topline 101 on core and why it’s so important

What is your core?

Your core muscles are made up of several different muscles in your abdominals and back.  These include the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, the rectus abdominus, the erector spinae, (sacrospinalis), the longissimus thoracis and the diaphragm.  

Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus and trapezius. 

In a simple form think of your core muscles as a highly supportive band or belt that runs around your trunk keeping everything in alignment.

Why is it so important to have a strong core?

Your body is highly reliant on the core muscles for functional movements and maintaining a good posture. If you look at people who slouch or slump they are unlikely to have strong core muscles.  

A strong core helps to prevent back pain which is often a sign of weak abdominal muscles and for you sporty people good core strength can dramatically improve sports performance or help you to lift heavier loads.

What is the Transverse Abdominus (TA)?

This hugely important muscle is the deepest of all the abdominal  muscles and is thought to be a significant component of the core. It provides thoracic and pelvic stability… and without a stable spine that is aided by this TA muscle functional movements can not be performed properly.

Therefore it is extremely important to activate and use your TA when carrying out any form of exercise from weight training to running to cycling.  It will help you to exercise safely and maintain a correct posture.

I always say to my clients that they should think of their TA  as being at the heart of them, their engine. In other words once they have activated this deep muscle they should then try to use it to give them power and strength.

How do I find my TA muscle?

The TA is notoriously a tricky to locate and recruit but once you have found it and practised using it  you will find that it works a bit like a light switch flicking on and off when needed.

To help activate this muscle imagine you are trying to zip up a pair of really tight jeans! You can improve the contraction further by also working the muscles deep within your pelvis, the ones that keep you from urinating.

How do I train my core muscles?

Here is a program of my top 6 core strengthening exercises. You don’t need any equipment, just an exercise mat, grassy area or a carpeted floor at home.

Work through the program from exercise 1 – 6 and then repeat 2/3 times.

Don’t be deceived, it’s harder than you think!

* For beginners I suggest  just doing the stage 1 of each exercise (for the ones that have stages)

EXERCISE 1…Plank with Leg Raise

  1. 60 seconds in plank position
  2. Then opposite leg raises counting to 10 before swapping legs – repeat 6 times
  Make sure you keep your core muscles engaged for the duration of this exercise (in other words contract your TA and draw your navel in towards your spine). Push back with the heels and activate your thigh muscles pulling up from the knee caps. Tuck your tail bone under and keep breathing. When you lift the leg make sure you really activate the butt and flex the foot
EXERCISE 2…Plank with Leg Raise

  1. Side plank hold for 60 secondsResume starting position
  2. Back into the side plank position again and left let 12 times on each side 
  Make sure you keep your core muscles engaged for the duration of this exercise. Come up onto the elbow making sure there is a right angle at the elbow. Squeeze the bum and pull the hips up using the oblique muscles down the side of the body. Keep the chest up and open and keep breathing.When raise the leg make sure you activate the butt muscles and keep breathing 
EXERCISE 3…Wide leg abdominal crunches

  1. Do 15 crunches with legs together
  2. Open legs wide and repeat with another 15 crunches
  Make sure you keep your core muscles engaged for the duration of this exercise. Bring the shoulders are completely off the ground for the entire exercise as crunch the trunk up and down very slowly. Keep the back of the neck long at all times, tucking the chin slightly.
EXERCISE 4…Prone Ab Crunch

  1. Complete 12 reps of entire exercise on one side and then repeat with the other leg
  Start the exercise in a high plank position. Make sure the tail bone is tucked under and the core muscles are engaged. Push back with your heels and activate your thigh muscles pulling up from the knee caps. Keeping core activated lift the left leg up slowly behind you. Then bring the same knee forwards towards the chest – as far forward as possible. Next slowly lift the leg up again squeezing the butt and then finally bring the knee across the body to the opposite shoulder. Repeat these 3 moves for the desired number of reps and then swap sides.
EXERCISE 5…Bicycle Crunches

  1. Do 20 reps alternating side 
  Make sure you keep your core muscles engaged for the duration of this exercise. Keep the shoulders completely off the ground as you crunch to the side and make sure the move is nice and slow.
EXERCISE 6…Sleeping Crab

  1. 15 reps of the entire move
    Begin the exercise lying on your back. Activate your core muscles as you crunch up into a sitting position with your arms behind you. Next lift your butt off the ground so your weight is in the arms and legs. Lift one leg up making sure you kick nice and high whilst breathing out, then kick up with opposite leg. Do 2 kicks each side and then resume the starting position and repeat for desired number of reps.
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