My favorite core exercises

If you want to strengthen your core, then you need to know how to do a plank.  To put it simply, rest your elbows on the floor beneath your shoulders while raising yourself up on your toes.  Your back must remain flat.  Do not stick your rear up into the air and do not sag your tummy!  If you need to modify, then do it on your knees.

Once you have the basic plank down then you can try:

1.  Putting your feet up on a BOSU ball or step.

2.  Rocking front to back on your toes.

3.  Lifting up one leg at a time.

4.  Raising your elbows up off the floor with your palms flat on the ground (keep your arms straight, but don’t lock your elbows.

5.  Lateral plank walks (with your arms straight): Move your left foot out sideways and then your left arm.  Repeat with your right side.  Do this for 10 steps and then return to the starting spot.

Side plank

Side plank

6.  Plank on your side.  Lie on your left side and then bring your body up onto your elbow (it should rest directly below your shoulder).  Keep your body (back and legs) straight! You can rest your feet on top of each other or one in front of the other.  Hold as long as you can and then repeat on the other side.

Once you have the hang of the plank, then you can try my favorite core exercise.  It is my favorite because I find it challenging and I can really FEEL it working!

Swiss Ball Jackknife

Swiss Ball Jackknife

Swiss Ball Jackknife:  Get into a plank position with your shins on the ball (remember to keep that back straight throughout the entire exercise)!  Roll the ball toward your arms by bringing your knees to your chest.  Then return to the starting position.  The challenge is keeping your back straight!

I also like the Swiss Ball Mountain Climber:  Place your hands on the ball like you are preparing to do a push-up.  Keep your back straight (of course).  Lift your left foot off the ground and bring your knee up to your chest.  Repeat with your right foot.  Maintaining stability during this exercise is challenging!  But the more you challenge your stability, the more you are strengthening that core!

Then there is the Russian Twist (I am not sure why it has that name… you could also call it a seated twist):

Russian Twist with weight

Russian Twist with weight

Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.  Lean back so your torso is at a 45 degree angle (keep that back straight and not hunched!).  You may use a weighted ball or dumbbell (or nothing if you need to practice the technique).  Hold out your arms straight (with the weight in your hands) and twist as far as you can to the left.  Then repeat with the right side.

When is a good time to do core exercises?  Well, most people tend to do it at the end of a workout.  It is best to keep the core wide awake during most of your routine and not fatigue it until the end.  This decreases the risk of injury since (as I mentioned in my previous post) the core is VERY important in keeping you injury-free!  With that said, I will incorporate a few core exercises in between sets for my other muscle groups because I am not the kind of person who likes to sit still during a workout.  If I want to give my biceps a break between sets, then I will either do some lunges or bicycle crunches to keep my heart rate up.  However, I will save the most exhausting core work for the end.

How many types of exercises should you do?  How many sets should you do?  Well, it all depends on how long it takes for your core to catch on fire.  Sometimes I spend 10 minutes doing core work, while other times I try to spend 30 minutes.  It is always good to add variety to your workouts, so choose a few exercises to do during each session.  Then you will have other options to try during the next session.  Of course if you have favorites (like I do) then you might choose those ones more often.  I typically turn it into a circuit where I will choose 3 exercises and then rotate between each for at least 3 sets each.  Each set will consist of 12-20 reps depending on how tough the exercise is.

Anyway, these are just a few of my favorite core exercises.  If you are a beginner, then you should really have an experienced fitness guru demonstrate the exercises and then they can watch you to make sure you are doing them correctly.  It is very important to perform these exercises with a straight back.  If you are slouching or sagging, then your body is obviously fatigued and you should stop and try again later.  Happy core strengthening!


Find your inner core

As a runner, it is easy to focus on strengthening your legs, heart and lungs.  Isn’t that all that really matters when you are only trying to propel yourself forward without falling over with exhaustion?  This is a mistake made by many runners, myself included.  When I first started running I was only running.  I might have done a bit of weight training, but I was pretty intimidated by the weight room and I really had no idea what I was doing.  I avoided the elliptical and the stationary bike because I never felt like they were good enough substitutes for running.  The idea of cross-training just didn’t make any sense to me.  I assumed that I only needed to run more in order to become a better runner.

Then I couldn’t run anymore.  I could barely even walk.  My leg hurt so bad… the piercing pain radiating from my hip to my knee.  It sucked.  Not being able to run was the worst feeling in the world.  I went to the doctor because I knew that was the only way to fix the problem.  After a few tests, I learned that I had a protruding disk that was pushing on the nerve that ran down my leg.  Physical therapy was the best way to fix the problem so I did what I needed to do.  I avoided running for 3 months (well, every now and then I would make a failed attempt) and I attended my weekly therapy sessions.  The ultimate goal:  to strengthen my core in order to keep that disk in check.  That seemed easy enough.  Why didn’t I think of that before?  I would have saved myself a lot of trouble.

When most people think of their core they think of their abs.  Well, your core isn’t just your abs.  It is also your back, your hips and your cute little glutes.  All of those combined parts make up your core.  Doing crunches all day long isn’t going to help you much.  You need to focus on all components in order to get it right.

My physical therapist incorporated pilates into my sessions.  I glanced through a pilates book at the library and it had photos of old ladies doing pilates.  I wasn’t so sure about pilates, but I felt like I was working harder doing pilates than I ever was when I tried yoga.  Pilates was actually difficult when I started doing it.  My stomach felt like it was on fire.  Pilates and I are now good friends.

The plank is a very simple core exercise!

The plank is a very simple core exercise!

I remember the first time I did a plank.  I was lucky if I could hold the position for 10 seconds. After many months of hard work, I can now hold a plank for quite a long time.  Did you know that there are at least a hundred different versions of a plank?  You can do a plank with your feet on a ball or on a bench.  You can do a plank with one arm or one leg held up.  You can move sideways during a plank or rock front to back on your toes.  The list is endless.  The plank works your entire core and you don’t even need any equipment in order to do it!  You can even do it while you are watching t.v.!

I was saved when I found my inner core.  I could run again.  Now I know how VERY important it is to keep your core strong.  Core exercises are always part of my routine regardless of time constraints.  It is the only way for me to remain injury free.  My next blog post will be dedicated to a few of my favorite core exercises so stay tuned…