Let's Begin by Clearing up What Muscles Actually Make up the Core
The core is a complex series of muscles extending far beyond the abdominals and has three dimensional depth through all planes of motion. The major muscles of the that make up the core include the pelvic floor musculature, transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, rectus abdominis ("six pack muscle), and the diaphragm. With those being the main components, the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and trapezius are also included as minor associated muscles. All of these muscles work together to support the spine, maintain balance, and create a solid base for the body to perform both static (not moving) and dynamic (moving) movements.
Why Is Core Strength Important?
I like to think of the core as the body's foundation, having a weak link in the body is just like having a weak foundation in a building. Once force is applied to that building in a certain way it will collapse due to a weak link. The same theory applies to the body and associated injury. A common injury related to poor core strength is lower back pain. If an individual has imbalances throughout the core musculature or these muscles lack strength, excessive load can be placed on the low back often causing discomfort of injury. Core strength is not only good for athletes, but for performing tasks of daily living with less discomfort or risk of injury.
Here are 4 of the Best Exercises for Building a Strong Core At Home
I have seen many people perform hundreds of sit ups and crunches in hopes of building a stronger core; however, this is the worst way to go about it. It is important to train in a more functional way, making more than one muscle group work together at the same time to stabilize the spine. This mimics real life actions much more and will help build a strong foundation that is able to both generate and absorb force most effectively. Have no fear - below I will break down the 4 best exercises you can do in your own living room to begin to build a strong foundation. Bonus, in the process of this you might happen to notice more tone in your abdominal muscles too! Note: Before performing the below exercises, make sure you know how to properly engage your transverse abdominal muscle by performing the pelvic tilt exercise.
Here is how you perform a pelvic tilt:Begin by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling your naval in towards your spine and push your low back into the floor. Hold this contraction for 5 seconds, release, and repeat 10 times. Be sure to not hold your breath during the contraction phase of the exercise to ensure you are not using your diaphragm to perform the exercise. If you would like to see a video of how to perform the pelvic tilt exercise click here.
Now On To The 4 Best Exercises:
1. Dead Bug
- Begin by lying on your back with your hands extended up towards the ceiling.
- Bring your feet up so that your hips and knees are at a 90 degree angle.
- Before beginning, flatten your back to the floor and rotate your pelvic up.
- Start by extending one leg out until your leg is almost parallel with the floor (but not touching it). Be sure to keep your back flat throughout the movement, as you will feel your back wanting to arch.
- Return the leg to starting position and repeat with the opposite side, alternating back and fourth until the set is complete.
2.Quadruped aka Bird Dog
- Begin on all fours with your back and neck in a neutral position (looking at the floor).
- Draw your belly button in and raise your left leg behind you, while reaching your right arm out in front of you. Be sure to watch that your hips and shoulders remain square and your lower back doesn't arch.
- Hold the position for five seconds with your left leg and right arm up and completely straight before returning to the starting position. Alternate back and fourth between sides until the set is complete.
- NOTE: Slower is better! Do not rush the exercise in order to really focus on the stabilizer muscles.
- Lie on your back with both feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Your feet should be placed about shoulder width apart and approximately 6-8 inches from your bum.
- Perform a pelvic tilt and raise your bum up by squeezing your glutes and pushing through your heels. Hold for five seconds at the top and return back to the starting position.
- Be sure to exhale on the way up during this exercise and inhale on way back down.
- NOTE: If you want to make this exercise more difficult, check out this video on how to progress the bridge.
4. PlanksBoth front planks and side planks (when performed correctly) are amazing for building a strong foundation, so incorporating both into your home program will be beneficial.
- Lie on your stomach with with elbows bent, forearms and palms on the ground, legs extended, and ankles flexed.
- Raise your torso up off the floor until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees and torso is straight. Be sure you bum isn't up in the air, lower back isn't arched, and shoulders aren't shrugged.
- Hold this position for the prescribed amount of time, squeezing your glutes and keep stomach muscles tucked in.
- Turn to your right side with legs extended and feet and hips resting on the ground and stacked on top of each other. Place your right elbow underneath your shoulder and head in a neutral position.
- Gently raise your bottom hip up off the floor until your body is in a straight line. Be sure that both hips are stacked on top of each other and not rotated, chest is square, and squeeze your stomach muscles on the bottom side. Hold this position solid for the prescribed amount of time.