When you hear the words core strength, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many of us, it’s a well defined six pack. While this outer layer is involved, there is much more to it. Our abdominal muscles on the front and sides, the erector muscles of the back, our lats and psoas and even our glutes are what make up our bodies ‘core.’ Simply put, it is this group of muscles that stabilise and control the pelvis and spine.
These muscles must work together to create stability for the spine. Without this stability everyday tasks such as getting out of bed, picking your child up and riding a bike would be impossible. The simple action of walking requires core stability to prevent you from falling to the side with each step.
In a quest for a stronger core there is a common misconception that a rippling six pack is built on endless sit-ups and crunches. I think it’s important to express that abdominal definition can be achieved through diet alone if the body fat is low enough. A rippling six pack however is not the marker of a strong core just as sit-ups and crunches aren’t required to build it. I prefer to train the core with a variety of other movements. “The McGill Big Three” made popular by Canadian core and back expert Dr. Stu McGill are movements that can be done anywhere with no equipment. Let’s look at three body weight movements you can do at home.
- Roll up
- Lie flat with one knee bent and the other straight
- Place hands under low back (this keeps spine in a neutral slightly arched position for next step)
- Pick head off ground a few inches and hold for 5-10s
- Head comes back down. Rest and switch sides when ready.
The goal is to perform a curl up without any movement in the low back. Lifting the head/chest too high will cause low back to round and pressure into the spine.
2. Side plank
- Lie on side with legs bent and upper body supported from elbow
- Opposite hand comes to shoulder or hip
- Lift hips so that only knee and arm support your body weight
- Hold 5-10 seconds and repeat on opposite side.
* Option to straighten legs bringing one foot in front of other
- If unable to accomplish modified plank, try a side lying leg lift.
- Lay on side stacking legs
- Engage core and lift both legs
- Hold 5-10 seconds. Lower and repeat opposite side
3. Bird dog
- Come to hands and knees. Keep a neutral spine (very slight arch)
- Extend one leg backwards and opposite arm until fully straightened making sure there is no movement through low back
- Bring arm and leg back to starting position, repeat opposite side.
* Kick heel of foot straight back. Make a fist and engage arm muscles as arm holds extended position.
Try 3 sets of 5 reps per side of each.
Hold each movement for 5-10s.
Rest 30s between movements.