Exceptional Core Strength Workouts

Core strength routines act to stabilize our spine and strengthen our legs and hips to safely carry out everyday pursuits from gardening, to walking with an uneven load on our shoulders like a wiggly two year old, to any major sport you could name.

What’s The Big Deal With Core Strength Workouts?

Our core refers to the cylinder of mid-body muscles that comprise our trunk.

Eradicate Back Pain

Many of us focus on developing a strong chest, shoulders and strengthening our arms and legs. Yet lots of us also carry low-back pain, sometimes for years. And a lot of athletes regularly suffer from abdominal, groin and knee strains.

These injuries happen mainly because they lack core strength.

The many exercises used in our core strength workouts will strengthen your upper and lower body while increasing your core strength resulting in the likely eradication of back pain as well as AB and groin strains.

You will learn to use weights, exercise balls and other simple apparatus in ways that will give you excellent results.

The use of these pieces of equipment together a range of innovative exercises, make working out fun and the constant challenge will prevent you from getting bored while you’re working out. As you become more familiar with the exercises, you will find that there are endless variations you can use. The constant challenge and frequent novelty will help motivate you to stick with these result-producing workouts.

State-Of-The-Art Core Strength Workouts

Our understanding of core strength workouts and their importance has advanced considerably in recent years. Before the 90’s when we thought about our core, (if we actually ever did that) we generally only thought of our abdominals. And when we thought of our abdominals we usually thought that the way to strengthen, flatten and get them to behave(ie stay tucked inside our jeans), was to do sit ups – lots and lots of them.

Respected professor of spine mechanics, Stuart McGill PhD, at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, cautions that “enough-sit ups will cause damage in most people”.

Not exactly a great ad for sit-ups!

In the 90’s and beyond sit ups did in fact begin falling out of favor. Crunches, reverse crunches, and leg raises, which we’ve mentioned elsewhere on our website, all came into vogue then, to replace sit ups. Though they effectively build abdominal size and strength especially of the proverbial six pack (or rectus abdominis) they do present potential issues.

Because we have become increasingly sedentary – sitting for extended periods in our cars or at our desks frequently hunched over our computers, our trunks remain almost constantly in flexion. Emphasizing abdominal exercises like crunches for core strength training puts the body in further flexion. This over-emphasis on flexion exercises places our lower backs at risk of injury.

Consequently increasing numbers of strength and conditioning coaches have been on a search for exercises that get the job of core strengthening done both safely and more effectively.

Core Strength Workouts To Strengthen Your Deep Muscle Layers

Our core strengthening workouts include quite a number of recently publicized exercises that stabilize the spine, keeping it safe during sudden uncontrolled movement by strengthening not only the superficial layer of abdominals – the rectus abdominals, but also the deeper layers of our trunk muscles.

In our core strength workout you will strengthen:

The external obliques – positioned either side of the waist. These allow you to twist and bend sideways and provide stability for these moves when you offer resistance.

The internal obliques – which compress and stabilize the spine.

The latissimus dorsi – the butterfly shaped muscle that fans out either side of your spine. It pulls your arms down and stabilizes both spine and pelvis.

The twin multifidus – that runs up and down the sides of your spine in a French braid-like arrangement providing stability to each individual segment of your lower back. It controls rotation and backward bending or extension of the spine.

The quadratus lumborum (QL) – a small muscle in your lower back on either side of your waist that pulls your torso to the side and supports your back when forward bending or when in flexion.

The transverse abdominis (TA) – the deepest abdominal layer that wraps around your waist like a corset compressing your internal organs and securing your spine in a stable position.

In our core strengthening workouts you will use a step by step progression in order to safely and effectively develop and strengthen your core.

Static Stabilization Phase

In this phase of the core strength workouts you will put your body in a set position to stabilize your spine and pelvis holding that position for a specified time.

As you get stronger you will increase the challenge by using advanced versions of the basic moves.

For example:

Performing a Basic Plank (or Hover) for 45-90 seconds.

First get into a push up position

Now rest on your elbows keeping your spine in a straight line from head to toe. Avoid elevating or dropping your hips past that straight line.

Once you can comfortably perform this basic plank, you would then start performing an advanced version of this exercise.

For example:

Performing a plank with legs on a fitness ball and arms fully extended for 45-60 seconds

The Static Stabilization Phase Engages The Deepest Core Muscles

Muscles such as the transverse abdominal (TA) during the static stabilization phase of the core strength workouts are engaged using mainly slow twitch fibers to generate low levels of force. As you become stronger and fitter you will be able to increase the period of time that you hold each position – from 10 seconds, to 20 seconds, 30 seconds, and so on until you will be holding some positions for up to 90 seconds.

Holding these positions as you progressively follow these core strength workouts will develop the endurance necessary to safely participate in your sports activities, lift heavy loads, garden, build that front porch…

The Dynamic Stabilization Phase

Dynamic stabilization involves your moving one or more of your limbs while keeping your spine stable in its neutral position (aligned from your earlobes to your ankles).

The performance of the exercises in this phase brings fast twitch muscles into play.

Roll out types of exercise illustrate this kind of stabilization well. Generally with these exercises your feet and sometimes your knees will remain on the ground while your hands and arms rest on an apparatus like a fitness ball.

You work to maintain your spine in a neutral position while you move your hands and arms forward and away from your body, shifting your center of gravity.

Static stabilization teaches your muscles to hold your lower back and pelvis in a neutral position while remaining motionless. You gradually increase the degree of difficulty for each exercise which increases your core strength.

Dynamic stabilization increases the physical challenge as the associated movements for each exercise forces other muscles to step up and start firing as well.

Integrated Stabilization Phase

After mastering the first two phases of the core strength workouts you are ready to progress to engaging your core muscles and maintaining your spine in a neutral position while you perform moves that closely resemble those that you carry out in sports and in everyday life.

Returning to the example of our wiggly toddler riding astride your shoulders that we talked about earlier. This time our little one decides to swing around on your shoulders as you are holding her, first draping herself upside down over your left shoulder, then swinging up and draping herself head-first over your right shoulder, while you make sure you have firm hold of her so she won’t fall.

Or let’s take another example where you have cut the grass with your lawn mower and you have emptied the grass clippings into a bag which you then carry up some steps to your compost bin to empty out the bag.

The integrated stabilization exercises in our core strengthening workouts will equip you better for these activities by having you perform a variety of exercises with asymmetrical loads. This forces your core to work harder to stabilize your back in a strong neutral position in ways that emulate daily activity and movements in sport.

To progress in the integrated stabilization exercises you will increase resistance, increase repetitions, increase distance, complexity, or speed.

Maximizing Your Progress In Each Phase Of The Core Strength Workouts

In all three phases your goal will be to advance as far as you can with each exercise so you take full advantage of these core strength workouts. It will take you around 4 to 6 weeks at each level before advancing to the next phase.

The first time you perform an exercise choose the basic version to start with, and when the exercise involves lifting a weight commence with a relatively light weight – even if you are an experienced exerciser.

If you find that to start with you cannot hold a particular position for even the minimum recommended time, don’t panic, just start with what you can hold and gradually increase your time as your strength and fitness allows.

Gradually increase your sets and reps until you can perform each exercise for the recommended maximum number of sets and reps, or the maximum specified amount of time. When you are comfortable with an exercise advance by using a more challenging variation, or increasing the resistance or speed.

Before moving on make sure though that you definitely master each exercise first keeping strict form. You will do yourself no favors by racing ahead, or using sloppy form – you will only be setting yourself up for injury. Trust me – I speak from the bitter experiences of clients, friends and myself!

Moving Through The Phases Of Core Strength Workouts

Bear in mind that moving from static, to dynamic, to integrated stabilization does not represent absolute linear progression. For example, the most advanced variations in the static stabilization phase may prove more difficult to perform than some of the exercises that you will perform in the integrated stabilization phase.

Components Of The Core Strength Workouts

1. Dynamic Warm Ups – 10 minutes

Mike Boyle in, ‘Advances In Functional Training’ writes “… the joints alternate between mobility and stability.”

You want your hips and ankles mobile and your knees and spine stable. So you’ll begin each session with mobility exercises focused on your hips and middle back to help prevent lower back injury. The once you’ve warmed up you’ll move onto stabilizing exercises for your lower back.

You will move your body in multiple directions:

  • Moving your joints through their full range of motion
  • Increasing your body’s temperature
  • Increasing your heart rate and circulation
  • Stimulating your nervous system

2. Core Strength And Power Workout – 20 minutes

3. Cardio Training – 10 to 20 minutes

To raise your metabolism

4. Warm Down – 5 minutes

  • Finishing with light stretches to keep you from post workout soreness and maintaining flexibility.
  • These core workouts as you can see do not take long and are very effective.
  • Combining these exercises with stretches, cardio workouts and basic weight training routines will set you on the road for long-term health, fitness and vitality!
Albena Anis
 

Albena Maxwell manages our Sports & Fitness, Outdoors and Automotive categories. When he's not writing and researching products, he enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee and traveling.

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