CORE Activation: WHAT, WHY and HOW to Strengthen Your Core with My Top Ten CORE-Exercises!

CORE training is all the rage in the world of exercise, and for good reason!  CORE training improves posture, protects your back from injury and pain, improves your balance, provides a stable and solid foundation from which to move, and helps you stand tall and feel confident! 

The principle behind CORE-training is simple – activate and engage the deep core muscles and train them to work together to achieve greater stability, structural integrity, and balance.  Think of your core as your solid foundation from which to move and live!  The goal is to keep core muscles “turned on,” throughout your exercise routine.  The payback is huge.  An engaged core benefits you in virtually any kind of movement and physical activity, such as doing housework, gardening, or kicking around a soccer ball with the kids.  When your core is strong, your whole body thanks you!

The CORE consists of muscles of the trunk or torso, specifically, the abdominals, hips and back.  Anatomically speaking, this means the pelvic floor (lower abs), the deep fourth layer of abdominals called the transverse abdominis, the internal and external obliques (side abs), the erector spinae and multifidus muscles of your lumbar region (lower back), and the superficial layer of abdominals called the rectus abdominis, often referred to as the “six-pack” abs.  It’s a mouthful, but thankfully you don’t need to pronounce the core muscles to make them stronger, LOL!

When your core is engaged, you may feel a sensation in your center, of being “locked in” and “secure” as some of my clients have described in our workouts.  One of them told me she feels like she’s wearing a “corset” or “girdle”.  Another said he feels like he is wearing a “brace” around his midsection.

Watch my Youtube video now to learn how to locate and activate your core muscles!  Then try some of the exercises I shared, to practice core activation, and further strengthen your core.  Try to do between 8-15 repetitions of each exercise.  The rule of thumb is to do as many reps as needed to feel a “burn” in the targeted muscle group(s).  Don’t forget to BREATHE.  Inhale through your nose……..exhale through your mouth, engage your core, and go… got this!

Exercise Tips:

Toe taps: After locating the transverse abdominis muscles, feel these muscles pressing against your fingertips as you practice your toe taps. Inhale to prepare.  Exhale engage your core and bring your leg back toward your diaphragm. Keep spine neutral, avoid using your hip flexors, keep core activated, and move from your hip joint only (knee joint is locked).

Hip lifts/Bridges: Targets hips, butt, legs and core!  Inhale to prepare.  Exhale engage your core and press your hips up into a bridge/hip lift.  Inhale through your nose at the top, breathing through your diaphragm, and exhale through your mouth, as you slowly roll down to the mat, articulating down your spine, one vertebra at a time.  Press through the heels of your feet, keep knees parallel and hip width apart, lengthen neck, and keep shoulders down and relaxed. Pretend that you are squeezing a raison between your butt cheeks to isolate the glutes/butt.  If you are pregnant or postpartum, Kegel as you do your hip lifts to further engage your pelvic floor!  Modification: squeeze a pillow or small ball between your thighs to incorporate the inner thigh muscles for better efficacy!

Pelvic Floor/Lower Ab Reverse Crunches:  Keep core “turned on” throughout this exercise.  Tilt your pelvis (posterior pelvic tilt) inward toward your torso (think pubic bone into navel), to bring your legs back in.  Avoid using hip flexors!  The legs move from the pelvic tilts!  Great exercise to prevent Diastasis Recti.

Modified Superman on Belly and Swimming Strokes:  Great exercises to strengthen postural muscles and glutes. Keep glutes tight and contracted, extend/lift neck (cervical spine) and upper back (thoracic spine) together in one piece, keep scapulae (shoulders) neutral, and breathe!

Short-Arm (Forearm) Front Plank Variations:  Keep spine neutral.  Draw navel in toward spine, deflating your abdominals to engage deep core transverse abdominis muscles.  Breathe!  When you can hold this plank for 30-60 seconds, progress to the mobile front plank variation where you drop your hips below neutral and flex your spine just above neutral to further isolate and activate the core. If your abdominals are trembling inside, you are doing it right.  Great job!

Long-Arm Front Plank Variations:  Keep spine neutral, activate core, stabilize hips (especially when you do 3-point variation with one leg in the air), lengthen neck, keep shoulders neutral, and tushie/butt tight.

Long-Arm Side Plank Variations:  Great exercise to strengthen side abdominals and get rid of love handles.  Keep core “firing on,” legs contracted, shoulders neutral, neck long, and hips pressing away from the mat as high as you can, as long as you can maintain core stability.  On the side plank variation with rotation, stagger your feet/legs so that the foot of your top leg is ahead of the foot of your bottom leg.  This will help facilitate the torso twist.  Now simultaneously activate your core and twist your torso, to isolate the obliques/side abdominals.  Review my video to see how I rotate onto my toes to get the best torso twist I can.

Short-Arm (Forearm) Side Plank:   Inhale to prepare.  Exhale, engage core, and press hips and side abdominals away from the mat/ground.  Hold for 30-60 seconds. Avoid shoulder and neck ache by lengthening neck and gently pressing shoulder/arm away from the mat.  Progress to side planks with hip lifts and torso twists (see above for explanations).

Single-Legged Stance with Arm Exercises (Side Deltoids/Shoulders, Biceps and Triceps):    Begin exercise with feet hip width apart and parallel.  Engage your core and lift right leg into the air – place hip, knee and ankle joints at 90 degree angles. Once you are stable and balanced, add the arm exercises.  When preforming the triceps extension single-legged exercise, hinge forward at the hip joint (do not flex spine), lengthen neck, keep shoulders pulled back gently, and contract glutes/butt (great isometric butt exercise).

Stationary Lunges with Arm Exercises (Side Delts, Biceps, and Triceps):  Awesome compound exercises to get your heart rate up, burn calories, and work your entire body.  Start with legs and feet hip width apart and parallel.  Activate core, and step forward (or backwards) into a lunge position, keeping feet hip width apart.  Press though the heel of the front foot, and toes of the back foot as you lower and lift, keep butt and leg muscles contracted, core engaged, and back straight.  When you feel stable and secure in your lunge, add the arm exercises.