MORE CORE: Core Results in Your Whole Workout
6 EXERCISES TO GET YOU STARTED!
Do you know how to organize your core so that you get the most out of your workout? Every exercise can be turned into a core challenge with a few tips from the pros.
Organize the limbs so that perfect posture is always achieved.
Your posture, core, and functional strength will improve.
WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT?
Your body is made to stand and to walk. When standing the limbs should be lined up so that the body feels as light as possible to the effects of gravity. For example, if your head is forward of the spine (very common), gravity will make it feel heavy to your neck. Your neck will have to compensate somehow to hold it up…if you had no muscles around your neck, your head would fall off! Postural breaks always create stresses that set the stage for the potential for injury, and often not just in one area; the stress usually goes up or down the whole kinetic chain setting up stress throughout the whole system.
WHAT IS GOOD POSTURE?
The head should be perched right on the top of the spine and it should feel weightless. Stand against a wall. Organize your limbs. Your head, upper back and shoulders, sacrum, and feet should be against the wall. Your shoulder blades should lie flat on the wall, and your ribs should not be splaying out to accomplish this. They should be relaxed (for those with shortened pecs/forward sloping shoulders, this might be very hard). There should be a slight inward curve of the spine at the low back and the neck. Good posture should be easy to achieve and effortless but for most of us, it’s hard work.
WHAT IS THE CORE?
The core is a system of muscles that protect the spine and organs from all angles: front, side, back. Additionally this grouping attaches your limbs to your trunk. Not just the Holy Grail of the 6 pack, it’s the whole enchilada.
6 EXERCISES TO AN ORGANIZED CORE
What goes down, must go up right? So when the weights go down (chest flye is open), the ribs splay up. The rectus abdominus attaches right at that spot of the ribcage. Engage the abs hard to press the ribs closed. The heavier the weight, the harder the abs must engage to stop this common core collapse.
As you press the weight overhead, gravity-wise, you should go straight up. Problem is, if your shoulders are tight or your core is weak as the weight goes up, the low back buckles in (and usually the ribs splay open). To prevent this, engage the abs to press the ribs closed which will help prevent an inward buckle of the low back.
PLANKS and PUSH UPS
Push Ups are arguably the most important functional exercise to master. Planks and Push Ups require strong core strength to keep the middle of the system at your hips stable. To avoid a collapse at the hips and low back, use your glutes to aid your abdominals.
- Hands below shoulders, straight body, weight the ball of the foot, heels pressed back.
- Tighten your quads making your legs strong and straight.
- Ribs pressed closed; it should feel like they are trying to wrap around the side body hugging you. If your upper back puffs up a little, you are probably doing it right.
- Your low back should not buckle in which exaggerates the low back curve. Instead, engage the glutes and move toward a small tuck in the pelvis (which will flatten out the low back a little). Although this is not perfect neutral spine, since gravity’s downward forces are greatest at the middle of the body, the low back could use a little help; if the abs are not strong enough, the glutes can keep the low back from buckling in.
- To mindfully engage the transverse abdominus, pull the navel toward the spine. Keep the navel up and in as you breathe; this control exercise teaches you how to use the transvers as your diaphragm moves air in and out of the lungs.
- When executing a push up, the organization of the low back is often lost as the body goes down. Brace your positioning before starting the movement.
- For more on Planks, click here.
As a curl is initiated, the weight you are holding (which has a downward force) will create a forward tug on the other side of the lever, the shoulder, making the shoulders collapse forward and the elbow swing back. Draw the shoulder blades down your back placing them back in their neutral positioning. The heavier the weight, the harder your core will have to work to slide the shoulder blades down keeping the shoulders from elevating and/or slipping forward.
You need a strong core for cycling, but unless you know how, you won’t get it by cycling. To get a strong core ON the bike, even seasoned cyclists need constant reminders.
Gravity is your enemy and your ally, since you ride at an angle over the bike. The forward angle means gravity will be working against you for the entire ride: a great opportunity to improve your posture, OR enforce bad postural habits.
Your low back should have the same amount of inward curve as it does when you have perfect posture standing up. Because tight hamstrings will pull the pelvis into tipping to backward, usually you will see the low back flatten out yielding to the body’s weight and inflexibility. Additionally, when this happens, the upper back usually follows by slumping over.
Moving up the chain, the humerus (top arm bone) falls into the socket of the shoulder, adding compressive loads into the acetabulum of the shoulder. People who love the “aero” position on the bike usually like it because they can collapse their core. Granted this saves on energy, but the long-term effect is that bad posture is reinforced, and the core does not help with power at all.
In order to adjust this and achieve good posture on the bike, lift your chest. The sternum should feel high, which does not mean raising your trunk higher from the bike. It means that the upper body is not caved in. The chest will open as the shoulder blades slide down your back and give stability to the weight of the upper body. This does not just happen: this is effort.
Your ribs should never be collapsed closed. Your low back should have some inward curve. If you have tight hamstrings, you may not achieve neutral (the amount of inward curve you have when standing up in perfect posture) but since that is optimal positioning, make it a goal.
Consistent hamstring stretching can help over time. Power is achieved and maximized if the glutes are available for use; glutes are not powerful when the low back is in flexion/collapsed in. Therefore, hamstring flexibility can result in greater power potential just by changing the availability of range of motion.
CYCLING CLIFFNOTES VERSION:
- Chest lifted, even if body is still hinged forward and low.
- Chest open; use your shoulder blades; slide them down your back.
- Elbows slightly bent.
- Hands light on the bars; use your core to not be heavy on your hands.
- If your shoulders start to lift/slump forward, press them back down reorganizing your shoulder blades, ribs, and low back.
- If you are not thinking about it, you are probably slumping. It will take a few months to make this a habit.
It’s the most basic of skills (besides crawling) but we see terrible gait patterns all the time.
- Before beginning, organize your posture. Review the postural points above.
- Head lightly placed above spine
- Shoulder blades pressed down; shoulders open and low. This needs to be organized, not exaggerated.
- Pull the navel up and in. With time, this should become a muscular habit. If you have to sit for a living (do a lot of sitting while working, driving, etc.) your transverse abdominus has probably gotten weak and needs to be woken back up and strengthened.
- Your sternum (breast bone) should feel high and open. Do not exaggerate to the point that your low back buckles in. If 2 drops of water were placed on the sternum, it should feel like they would run across the clavicle (collar bones) and off the shoulders.
- Try this drill: walk the line.
- Imagine a straight line and each foot must intersect the line in the middle.
- Once you get the hang of getting one foot in front of the other, change the initiation of achieving this from the hips. Feel the hips rotate to send the foot toward the middle of the line.
- As you initiate the hips to send the foot forward, feel the rotation of the pelvis. Most people lose this rotation over time. If you pull your abs in as if you wanted to look skinny, it will exaggerate the feeling of rotation; it is a great drill to do when trying to improve walking gait patterns. You should feel the obliques on the side of your core firing beautifully as you practice rotation walking the line.
Using your core is possible to do in every exercise we do, whether it is in the gym or at home. For more help with learning how to use your core, Pivotal Fitness has certified exercise professionals with expertise in Core Training, Pilates, Functional Strength, Gait Patterns, Triathlon Training, Cycling, Running, Golf and other sports, as well as Personal Training, Lifestyle Coaching, Nutrition, and a multitude of other specialties. We pride ourselves that our team is constantly learning and on top of the most current information and training. Whether you choose to join us in a class, coached workout, small group training, or one-on-one session with a trainer, our staff will help you achieve your goals.