Whether you are a regular gym goer or new to exercise there is one thing you need to give priority to.
Your core fitness!
Fortunately this is something that you can work on at home and should take no more than 10 minutes a day to complete.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
What is my core?
Before we go much further it may be worth clarifying what your core is. Whilst some may naturally think that the core is just about abs and six packs, although the rectus abdominus does form part of the core, it is just one section of the three muscle layers that the core consists of.
These layers consist of a deep (position sense muscles), middle (inner unit) and outer layer (outer unit muscle slings) that form a cylinder around your internal organs with your diaphragm at the top and your pelvic floor at the base. A strong core is essential for stability, posture, strength, speed and trunk stabilisation.
Ensuring that you have good core strength, not only ensures better posture but also in the case of say a runner it will ensure your technique improves and your speed will increase due to the faster reaction times in the lower abs.
Bracing your core
The easiest way to explain abdominal bracing, the act of tightening or stiffening the abdominal muscles is as if bracing for a punch in the stomach. That natural reaction that takes place is what you are looking to replicate. Your aim is to stiffen the walls of that inner cylinder and with no bracing the abdominal wall is neither pushed out, nor pulled in.
Now we know what we are looking at lets get into the exercises. I have broken these down into two categories.
Static / isometric
A plank rotation is such a great way of building up core strength and can be progressed or regressed to suit. Adopt the general plank position, brace the core and hold the static move for around 20 – 30 seconds to start with. If you are struggling with this firstly, widen your legs to create a wider base of support then try again. If you are still struggling, then you may need to start with both knees on the floor and build gradually.
As you rotate onto a side plank you will find that this is slightly harder than the front position but again aim for 20 – 30 seconds in position. If you struggle to get into this position, then bend your lower leg at the knee and rise from that point until you progress.
As you rotate onto your back, you should lay flat raising your legs approximately 3 – 6 inches only making sure they remain straight and not bent at the knee. Pushing down through the heels and pointing your toes towards your face will help with this.
Once you have worked out your level you can progress in a number of ways. If you started with a regressed plank method, then aim to get to the normal method as quickly as possible. To progress from this point look at increasing time and number of rotations then also adding instability into the rotation with the inclusion of a stability ball as this will also speed up progress as you constantly make adjustments ensuring your stability on the ball.
Compound exercises are also a great way of improving core strength, particularly when put into a small circuit. Here is one that I like to use with clients, varying the frequency and weight to suit;
20 x V-Sit crunches
20 x Medicine ball Woodchops (10 each side alternating)
20 x Russian Twists (with medicine ball)
20 x Stability ball upper body twists (with medicine ball if possible)
20 x Superman
Perform the above in quick rotation, bracing your core throughout and only stopping to rest once all are complete. Rest for 2 minutes then repeat a second time.
Both of the above can easily be performed in 10 – 15 minutes in the comfort of your own home and adapted should you not have a stability ball or medicine ball to hand.
At the gym
Although we are looking here at core exercises that you can easily do at home, it is important that your core forms part of your mental checklist whilst performing any exercises. Good form and posture are essential in everything that you do. In some cases it may make a big difference to whether you get any benefit out of the exercise being performed or not.
A good example of this for me is the rows of exercise bikes you see in a gym, generally full of people slumped forward either reading a book or watching the inbuilt TV. If this is you, just take a second to think what am I actually getting from this? Other than burning a few calories very little. For most people time is precious and one of the biggest barriers to exercise generally. Give the bike a miss and use the elliptical cross trainer and think about posture throughout your time on it.
This way you will ensure that you get the results that you want and most likely quicker.
Make every second of every exercise count!