Many exercise physiologists and trainers think that developing and maintaining core strength is the best foundation not only for playing a sport but for general muscular well-being.
The muscles of the core — the trunk of the body from the sternum to the pelvic floor — is involved in virtually every movement that you do. The core supports the body, helps keep it upright and balanced. A strong core supports the movements of arms and legs. It’s no coincidence that one of the signs of a weak, aged person is a stooped-over, hunchbacked appearance. That’s one of the consequences of having a weak core.
Core exercises are crucial to maintaining fitness and enabling you to move comfortably and effectively.
When guys think of the body’s “core,” they often think only of the abdominal muscles. Core exercises, they assume, are for developing a six-pack. But that’s a very incomplete picture. The core of the body consists of the muscles in both the front (the abdomen) and the back. In fact, the muscles of the back are often thought to be more important for overall functioning and strength than the stomach muscles. To develop and maintain the core, you must go beyond exercises that promise to give you six-pack abs. (Besides, every moderately fit person already has a six-pack. Those muscles just aren’t visible unless you get your body-fat percentage down to 8% or less.)
Fortunately, you can develop a strong, stable core by doing the following four exercises. This workout takes only 4 minutes to complete.
When Bicycling magazine wanted to recommend core-strengthening exercises to their readers, they went to Allison Westfahl, an exercise physiologist in Boulder, Colorado and the author of Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage: Core Strength for Cycling’s Winning Edge. Tom Danielson is an elite professional cyclist and holds the records for the fastest times in the grueling Mt. Washington Hill Climb and the Mt. Evans Hill Climb. Tom used to have a bad back, but with Allison’s guidance, he strengthened and balanced his core and improved his athletic performance. His back pain went away.
You don’t have to be a cyclist to benefit from doing the following four core exercises. Any endurance athlete — runner, swimmer, etc. — will benefit from them, as will those who play any sport (tennis, basketball, golf, rugby, fencing, etc.). They will also help folks who aren’t professional athletes get rid of back pain and be more balanced, efficient, and comfortable in their daily movements. Core strength is fundamental to proper musculoskeletal functioning.
It’s not called the “core” for nothing.
Do one set each of the following four exercises. Rest about 15 seconds between sets. I have included both a written description and a video showing how to do each exercise (you can watch them on your phone). Start with 3 sessions a week. You can add more sessions as you get stronger, and for quicker strength gains.
If you cycle or run, a good time to do these core exercises is immediately after a ride or run. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research reported that those who cooled down with a core workout significantly increased their ability to clear lactate (which means muscles that are less tired and sore).
1. Prone Snow Angels
Lie face down with your hands down by your sides. Squeeze your glutes (butt muscles) together. Slowly raise your feet, chest, and hands off the floor (max height 6 inches). Now sweep your arms out to the side and forward and bring your hands together over your head. (It’s like making a snow angel while lying on your stomach.) Then bring your hands back to your sides and lower your body to the floor. Repeat. Do 15 total reps.
2. Mountain Climbers
Get in a pushup position, with your back and butt in a straight line, hands under your shoulders. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and bring your lower abs upward toward your spine. Bring one knee up to your chest and then thrust it back to the start position, then repeat with the opposite leg. Try not to let your hips raise up or rotate as you move your legs. One movement with each leg is one rep. Do 15 total. See the video for variations.
3. Seated Boat Pose with Isometric Side Push (aka “The Musette”; see the video)
The “boat pose” comes from yoga. You start by sitting on the floor with your knees bent and your heels lifted about 4 – 6 inches off the floor, feet together. Your torso will naturally lean back some; work to keep your back straight. Make a fist with your left hand and press it into your right palm. Hold your hands about 6 inches in front of your chest. Keep your legs steady and twist your torso to the right. When you’ve twisted about 90 degrees, hold the position. Push your left fist hard into your right palm and hold the pose for 15 seconds. Then twist to the opposite side, right fist pressing into left palm, and hold. Then return to center. That’s 1 rep. Do just one to start. Do additional reps as you get stronger.
4. Plank with Alternating Knee Drops
Get into a plank position with your forearms flat on the ground, elbows beneath your shoulders, feet 8 – 10 inches apart, back and hips in a straight, horizontal line. Drop your right knee to the ground, then return it to the start position. Then drop your left knee. That’s one rep. Do 15 total. For more intensity, move your knees slowly.
For greater overall body strength and conditioning, kettle bell exercises are one of the best things you can do. Get complete info on kettle bell workouts, plus equipment, from the premier source of kettle bell exercise information and equipment online: Dragon Door.