One Exercise to Strengthen Your Core
Building your healthiest body starts with the muscles all around your midsection which are key for looking and feeling your best, even if you don’t reach six-pack status.
Your core muscles—the ones in your back, abs, and hips (including your glutes and inner thighs)—play a huge role in your day-to-day life. A strong midsection helps us perform nearly all of our movements; standing, sitting, carrying groceries, books, purses, babies and gym bags, to name a few.
“If the core muscles are not strong, it would be exactly the same as having no load-bearing walls in your house. The house would collapse,” says Michele Olson, PhD, an senior clinical professor of sport science and physical education at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, AL.
Here are 4 signs that you need to strengthen your core muscles:
1. YOUR BACK HURTS FOR NO OBVIOUS REASON
If you are experiencing back pain but you don’t know what could have caused it, you likely have a weak core. Your back and abdominal muscles are key to stabilizing and balancing your body and when they are weak, you have back pain. But it doesn’t stop there. Dr. Michele Olson, PhD, FASM, says that most people with knee, back, hip and shoulder issues have week core muscles because those areas of the body end up being overexerted to compensate for the lack of stability, balance and control in your core muscles.
2. YOU HAVE DIFFICULTY GETTING UP FROM A CHAIR
We never think about the muscles we use to perform day-to-day movements like the simple act of standing up from a sitting position, something we do dozens of times per day. Your midsection muscles help you rise from a seated position, but if you are exerting yourself by leaning forward and pressing your hands onto your thighs to get up, that’s a sign that your core is weak and your body is using other muscles to do the job.
3. YOU BECOME TIRED WHILE STANDING IN A LINE (QUEUE)
Have you stood in a checkout line and found yourself leaning on your cart or the counter for relief? Your core stabilizes your hips and lower-back muscles, so if you have a weak midsection, your core area will fatigue to the point you feel as if you can no longer stand without a prop.
4. YOUR POSTURE IS POOR
The job of your core is to stabilize the spine and pelvis at all times which keeps your body in proper alignment. If your core is weak, your body compensates by slouching, which leads to strained muscles and back pain, not to mention an unattractive way of moving around in the world because when you slouch (which I call “de-activating your core), your abdomen protrudes making you look misshapen. Of course the benefits of strong ab muscles go far beyond looks. A solid set of muscles helps us perform nearly every movement we make—standing, sitting, lifting, reaching, carrying groceries, books, children, purses, and gym bags.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE A WEAK CORE
Zillions of crunches are not the answer (yay, right?). To begin training your core can be as simple as focussing on your midsection throughout the day. Pretend someone is about to hit you in the stomach. Periodically pull your belly button in toward your spine and hold it for a count of 5 seconds and repeat 10 times several times per day; in the car, sitting at your desk, standing in line, whenever.
WHEN YOU ARE READY FOR A SERIOUS CORE WORKOUT
There is one exercise that I recommend that blasts your midsection, bird-dogs. They not only target your core muscles, but also your shoulders and butt muscles. Bird-dogs aren’t fun, especially with a dog or cat running around and under you while your body parts on in the air, but they are mega effective at strengthening your core. You could feel and see results in as little as 14 days if you do them consistently and with proper form. You might be sore for a few days, but it will be worth it. Once you get comfortable with this exercise, you could add light weights to your arm extensions.
SAFETY AND PRECAUTIONS
You should not do the bird-dog if you have shoulder pain or if you have had a back injury. Check with your doctor or physical therapist to find out when this exercise might be beneficial.