Words by Charlotte Holmes
So the word ‘core’ gets thrown around a LOT in the fitness and yoga world! ‘Engage your core’, ‘Keep your core tight’, ‘lift up through your core' etc. But what do we actually mean when we say this. I’m here to clear up the mysteries of the core and give you some fun exercises to help strengthen your core at home.
What exactly is your ‘core’?
Contrary to popular belief, the core isn’t just your ‘abs’ - although they are part of it. There are many layers of the core, for ease let's look at it as front body and back body. The ‘front body core muscles’ include the transverse and rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques and the adductors. The ‘back body core’ includes the rhomboids, lats, quadratus lomborum (lower back), spinal erector muscles (run all the way up your spine) and the gluteal complex (the whole of your butt!) To keep it even more simple it turns out your core is pretty much every muscle other than the ones in your arms and legs!
Why is a strong core important?
A strong core is vital because as an area, it is used in almost every movement of the human body. The core muscles work together to stabilise the body, allowing you to move in many direction at any given time, as well as aiding in balance. How can you sit up straight on a chair - thats your core! How do you twist your shoulders in a different direction to your hips - thats your core! How do you hold stay upright just walking down the street - yeah you’ve guessed it - your core!
What are the benefits of a strong core?
- Improved body control
- Greater balance
- Efficiency in movement
- Reduced risk of injury
- Improved posture
The list could go on and on; having a strong core will facilitate movement in other areas. For example, a sprinter needs a strong core in order to run as fast as possible. Without a solid core (particularly lower abdominals, lower back and glutes) there is a lack in power, stability and endurance - all vital to be an efficient runner.
Here are my top core exercises, some with a little spicy twist, that you can work on at home!
Five exercises to improve core strength
1. Plank Roll
Take your Manta roller and lie it at the front of your mat, come to a plank behind it. Keep your lower ribs pulling up and in, belly tight and glutes engaged. Starting with your right side gently roll your manta froward and away from you till your arm is extended as much as possible. Roll it back in toward you with control and repeat on other side. Variation - elbow plank.
2. Back Extension
Lie on your belly, legs extended long. Point your toes and press down into the ground where your shoelaces would be so your knee caps lift from your mat. Press your pubic bone down into the mat so your glutes engage. Bring your finger tips to your temples, elbows wide, shoulder blades squeezing in toward each other. Inhale, peel the forehead, head then chest away from the ground. Exhale to lower with control. Variation - arms extended out in front, row with yoga block.
3. Recline Block Squeezes
Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the mat in front of your sit bones. Press your lower back into the ground as if you’re trying to make an imprint of your spine on your mat. Bring your upper back off the floor as you bend your right knee to 90 degrees. Place the brick on top of your right thigh and your right elbow on the other side to hold in place. Interlace hands behind the head. Inhale here, exhale to draw the left knee to going the right, inhale left leg extends long. Aim here is to get the heel of the extended leg as close to the floor, without your lower back peeling away from your mat. Exhale crunch back in. Repeat 3-10 times as required… repeat on other side. Variation - Extend both legs long, toes pointing up to the sky, keep forearms pressing into block as you alternate dropping one heel at a time to the ground.
4. Alternate Limb Extension and Crunch
Come to table top (all fours). Hips stacked over knees and shoulders over wrists. Draw your lower ribs in and up, lengthening through the spine. Gaze down between the fingertips. As you inhale, extend your right arm, fingertips reaching out in front of you, at the same time extend your left leg behind you, toes pointed and reaching away. Exhale, bring your right elbow to your left knee into a crunch, chin to chest. Repeat x 4 and then lower back to all fours. Repeat on other side. Variation - Come to a beast hold (knees hovering an inch off the flour in table top. Inhale, extend opposite arm to leg, then lower on an exhale. Repeat on other side.
5. Side Plank
Come onto your right side and rest your elbow under your shoulder, palm flat on the floor. Extend your legs long, bring your left hand to your hip. Press down into the right elbow and the blade edge of the right foot to lift your hips away from the ground. Hold here, option to extend the arm to the sky, overhead and to the floor for an extra challenge. Hold for 15-45 seconds and lower. Repeat on other side. Variation - Full side plank with arm extended. Extra challenge - lift the top leg.
Improving your core strength will help in practically all other areas of exercises. With these exercises you can build up your strength through low impact movements from the comfort of your home. As you progress with the drills, why not try the variations to mix it up! Be sure to have a good stretch after.