Strengthening your core is one of the best ways to get fit and is very helpful in many sports, like football and Parkour. In fact, core muscles are engaged in all activities making them extremely important muscles to keep strong and healthy. Core muscles include all of the muscles of your mid-section including your abdominal muscles (front, side, and deep) low-mid back muscles and all of the hip muscles (glutes, hip flexors, pelvic floor muscles). You’ll find some exercises focusing on those muscles listed here. Following the tips can go a long way in strengthening your core safely and effectively.
Finding Your Core Musculature. First you’ll want to identify the muscles you’ll be focusing on. Once you are familiar with these muscles, you’ll be able to activate them throughout your day!The transverse abdominus muscle is a deep abdominal muscle that is often a neglected part of your core. This muscle acts as a built in weight belt supporting/protecting the low back as well as holding internal organs in place. It plays an more important role in trunk stability differing from the stability your rectus abdominus (6 pack abs) and obliques (side waist muscles), which are exercised in sit-ups and crunches.To engage your transverse abdominus and get a feel for this internal weight belt, pull your bellybutton towards your spine,at the same time pulling the low back muscles toward the belly keeping the focus below your belly button.You’ll want to engage this muscle throughout all of your daily activities as well as during your workout. You may also choose to do focused sets of the pull in if you are just starting out. Engage your transverse abdominus as described above to complete one repetition. Either choose 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions, or choose to hold each repetition for 10-30 seconds 3-5 times/set. Complete 2-3 sets.Identifying your glutes (butt muscles) and getting them to fire can be tough. Stand up with your feet together, leg muscles tight, inner thighs “glued” together. Grow tall out of your waist, shoulders away from the ears, and squeeze your butt cheeks together. Pull these muscles in and up, squeezing as hard as you can. Release and tighten again. Hold these muscles tight for 20-30 seconds, release and repeat. Keep standing tall and focusing on your butt muscles. Tightening the legs and hip muscles will further engage these muscles. As you continue to squeeze these muscles, you will most likely feel your low back. This is normal, these muscles work together.
Situps/Crunch. Lie on your back on the floor or a yoga mat. Legs are straight on the floor, leg muscles tight, backs of the legs “glued” to the floor. Either do slides (sliding your hands on your legs) or cross your arms in front of you (putting your hands behind your head will pull your head up, resulting in your neck being strained). Engage your transverse abdominus to initiate the crunch/sit up. Keeping legs “glued” to the floor, come all the way up to sitting tall with a straight spine. To modify, keep knees bent, feet flat on the floor and proceed as above. If you are not ready for full sit ups, do a crunch, holding your transverse abdominus in the whole time. Beginners start with 1-2 sets of 10-12 repetitions, intermediates perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions, advanced perform 3-5 sets of 15 repetitions holding a weighted medicine ball. If you are ready for a further challenge, do as many as you can. At the number you stop, mark that down somewhere so you don’t forget. Each time you exercise, increase the number of situps by increments of 3-5. Increasing the number slowly will help get your abs used to doing situps. This gives you the “six pack” and a strong core. Performing crunches on an unstable surface such as a stability ball will further challenge the core muscles.
Plank. Lie on the floor, or yoga mat, face down. Place forearms and toes on the floor, push up so only the forearms and toes remain on the floor. Tighten your hip, leg, arm, back, chest, and abdominal muscles making this a total body exercise. Keep your whole body straight from the base of the skull all the way to the heels, and keep even breathing. You’ll want to drop your hips a little bit further than shown here. After 30 seconds, relax for a few seconds. Then for another 30 seconds, lift yourself up again, but on your right side. Your right forearm and toes should be the only things touching the ground. Shoulders and hips will be stacked directly over one another. Feet can be separated or on top of one another. Hold for 30 seconds, rest, then switch to your left side. Repeat the whole cycle one to three more times. When 30 seconds is a breeze, increase the time by at least 5 seconds. The plank strengthens not only your core, but your total body,increasing core stability.
Arm sweep. Sit on the floor and slightly outstretch your legs “gluing” them to the floor, or bending the knees with feet flat. Sit tall, engaging your mid back to help you sit up straight. Stretch out your arms out the sides. Next, twist your body to the left so that you rotate and your right hand reaches for the left foot, and the left hand touches the ground behind you or is raised in the air behind you. Repeat on your right side. This results in a sweeping motion of your arms and twisting your body to engage the abdominal muscles and back muscles. Your fitness level determines the number of sets and reps you aim for. Beginners, 1-2 sets of 8-10 reps, intermediates, 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps, advanced, 3-5 sets of 15-30 reps.
Superman. Lie on the floor, or your yoga mat, face down. Reach your arms directly in front of you, reaching to the opposite wall. Straighten your legs, “gluing” your heels and inner thighs together by tightening the inner thighs and glutes. Lift your arms, chest, head, legs and feet off of the ground. At this point, only your belly and hips are touching the ground (no knees or feet). Keep holding your arms, chest, head, and legs up, engaging your low-mid back muscles and your glutes, for at least 30 seconds. Then relax. Do it again for another 30 seconds. When 30 seconds in simple, increase your time by 5 seconds or more. This exercise strengthens the back muscles that help support your spine and are necessary for a strong core.
Play a sport. A lot of sports require good core strength to win, and if you play them regularly, you’ll find that you’re benefiting from it in a fun way. So get out and play!
Choose activities you enjoy. Whether you enjoy gardening, running, snow sports, paddling, or going for walks with friends, you will be delighted with the benefits of core training.