Monday, April 2, 2012

All about the Core

We hear the word "Core" used quite frequently these days.  Many (or most if not all) in the fitness industry are familiar with this buzz word.  However, if you are not and are confused what core means, here is a simple explanation.  The word "core" is NOT an acronym.  The core is basically the trunk of the body; or more specifically the abdominals, lower back, hips and glutes.

The abdominals compose of the following muscles:  1) Rectus Abdominis (front of abdominals), 2) Transverse Abdominis (deep muscle located on the sides beneath the obliques), 3) Obliques - External and Internal (both are located on the sides and front of the abdomen...internal obliques are located beneath the external obliques).

The lower back is composed of the following muscle:  1) Erector Spinae (runs the length of the spine from the base of the pelvis).

The glute muscles include the following 3 muscles:  1) Glute Maximus (large butt muscle - external rotates and extends the leg), 2) Glute Medius (located on the outer surface of the pelvis - abducts the leg away from the midline of the body), and 3) Glute Minimus (located beneath the glute medius - also abducts the leg away from the midline of the body).


Pratt, N.  Clinical Musculoskeletal Anatomy.  CBLS: Marietta, OH 2004

So now that I have explained what muscles compose our "core" and where each of them is located, you are probably asking yourself  "what are some exercises I can do to work those muscles"?  Believe it or not you are most likely using all of these muscles in one or more ways during your everyday activities.  However, there are several exercises that can isolate each of these muscles specifically helping to improve posture, balance, athletic movement or look good in the mirror (and only if your nutrition is very good).

For the following exercises, complete 2 sets of 15-20 reps with no rest between each exercises and only 30 second rest between each sets.  For planks, use time instead of reps.

1.  Knee Tucks - Sit on a bench with hands behind you and on bench.  Lift your knees up and hold your torso at a 45 degree angle.  Simultaneously tuck your knees to your chest and bring your torso forward towards your knees.  Lower back down and repeat.

2.  Windmill - Lie on your back with your arms out to the side at shoulder height.  Straighten your legs and extend towards the ceiling.  Now keeping your abdominal muscle tight, lower your straight legs to the right, pause, and return to starting position.  Now rotate to the left and pause.  Keep shoulder blades on the floor and do not use momentum.  Repeat for reps.

3.  Back Extension - You can use either an extension machine or swiss ball for this exercise. Swiss ball adds more stability work.  Lower your upper body forward bending at the waist until you are perpendicular to the ground, and then return keeping your back flat.  You can either cross your arms in front or cross behind your head.

4.  Hanging Knee Crunches - Using a pull up bar, grab the bar with hands just wider than shoulder width. Your feet should NOT be able to touch floor when hanging.  Slowly raise your knees towards your chest without using momentum.

5.  One-Leg Deadlifts - balance on 1-leg with knee slightly bent.  You can use dumbbells for added resistance if needed.  Begin by lowering your torso forward keeping left foot on ground with knee slightly bent.  At the same time lift your right leg behind you keeping it straight (forming a 90 degree angle with left leg).  Tighten your hamstrings and but muscle and return to the starting position.

6.  Russian Twists - For this exercise you can use either a dumbbell or medicine ball for an added challenge.  Sitting on the ground, lift both legs off floor keeping them slightly bent.  While holding the weight (or not), twist your torso from side to side bringing your hands towards your hips.

7.  Pike - Use a swiss ball for this exercise.  Begin by placing both feet on the swiss ball with body in a plank/pushup position.  Slowly raise your hips bringing your feet towards your chest and return to starting position.

8.  Plank - Assume a pushup position.  You can either perform this exercise on your elbows or hands.  make sure yo keep your should blade pulled back so you don;t shrug your shoulders.  For an added challenge you can lift one leg straight off the floor for 10 sec and the switch legs.  Complete the exercise (whether just holding or doing lilfts) for 30-60 sec.

9.  Side Planks - Just as the name implies, this is similar to the plank but done on your side.  Start on one side and resting on elbow.  Lift your hips off the floor keeping torso in a straight line.  Hold for 30-60 sec. and repeat on other side.

10.  Reverse Crunch - You will need to use a swiss ball for this exercise.  Lie on floor with knees bent at 90 degree and squeezing the back of the swiss ball.  While keeping the ball squeezed, bring the ball towards your head as you lift your hips off the floor.  Return to starting position and repeat.

There you go, 10 Core exercises targeting the abs, glutes, and lower back muscles.  Have fun !!!

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