Lately I have been considering core strength…
and gingerbread houses…
but for the purposes of this blog post, lets stick to core strength shall we 🙂
although kittens are awesome…
no, sorry core strength it is…
Specifically I have been thinking about how to get really good core strength without hurting your back.
This is a challenge I faced when working on my portfolio for my level 3 assessment, I needed to find core exercises which would not damage the lower back. Lets face it, this is important for everyone, but it was particularly so in this case.
It made me think back to when I first started this quest (and before), with posture problems brought on by too much sitting and a lower back that was often achy, what did I do to get my now strong core?
(by the way I didn’t know I had a strong core until people on my PT training courses kept telling my that I did, I think it was the plank on a bosu/medicine ball that made them think it…)
So what did I do?
You know this was a harder question to answer than I thought it would be…
How did I get a strong core…I haven’t spent a long time doing crunches or really any traditional core exercises
I suppose the first an most logical answer to this question is Pilates, I have done Pilates (almost) every week for over a year and Pilates is all about core strength.
Or to put it another way core is the core of pilates…
OK, I shouldn’t have put it that way…shhh!
So to get a strong core, go to pilates, well yes, but there was more to it than that otherwise this would be a slightly pointless post as there are a lot of things out there that will tell you how good pilates is for your core!
What you should do, is go to pilates, and do some of these awesome things I am about to suggest while taking the core engagement techniques pilates as taught you and applying them to everything…
Or…read what I am going to tell you about core engagement, practice it, and do it all the time during every exercise you do, and when walking and such like, then your core will get a little bit of a work out all the time!
Start with this:
Core bracing / engagement…
this is really hard to explain, and quite tricky to get the hang of but once you do it makes all core (and other exercises) a lot more effective.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you have a level pelvis, which for most people involves tucking your bottom under a little and making sure your sit bones are pointing down at the floor not backwards.
when you have done this, you need to pull in through all of your abdominal muscles (front and back) as if you were trying to do up a tight pair of trouser or hollow your tummy out. At the same time, pull up through your pelvic floor which is a little like when you walk into cold water and everything pulls upwards…
You don’t need to maintain this at full hold but about 30 – 50% of maximum.
the other key thing to remember is you need to do this without holding your breath! you breath into you lungs not your tummy so with practice you should be able to do both 🙂
There is a much better description here
Then do some of these things…
Well we all know that burpees are pretty awesome, and are well known as whole body exercises, but if you concentrate on form over speed the are an excellent core workout 🙂
Just remember to keep your core engages through out and try to use it to pull your legs in on the squat thrust bit ;-). Adding a tuck jump on will give you an extra core boost too 🙂
Mountain climbers (as well as mountain climbing) are excellent cardio exercises, we know that… but if you concentrate on your core and really draw your knees up towards your chest while you do them, they will also give you a core work out at the same time 🙂
Yes, I know it says push up jacks…but I am British and insist on saying press ups…so in my mind, these are press up jacks…
These are hard…and awesome!
They are the product of an unholy union between a press-up and a jumping jack!
You start in press-up position with your feet together. As you bend your arms to go down into the press-up, you jump your feet out wide, as you press back up you jump your feet in again. things to remember with this is (apart from obviously maintaining core engagement_, are to keep you bottom down and your back straight. DO not lift up into pike, and do not let your bottom drop too far so your back hyperextends. Just maintaining this good form while moving your feet and press-uping requires a great deal of core stability!
(yes…press-uping is the technical term!!)
Cable machine core press
This is the thing you do where you stand with feet shoulder width or narrower, side on to the cable machine with the cable coming out level with your waist. The goal is to hold the handle out in front of you with straight arms while resisting the cable machine trying to make you twist towards it. (do this on both sides)
It sounds simple…
It is not simple… and it will strengthen your core so do it! 🙂
Cable Machine Wood Chop
set the cable machine to about head height, stand side on and hold the handle with both hands. with straight arms pull the cable diagonally down, trying to control the motion with your core not your arms. When you get to knee level, stop and return the cable to where you started slowly and under control. (do this on both sides!)
On the trx or on a swiss ball. THis one is easy to describe…but that is where the easy ends…it is another hard but awesome one!
Start in the plank with your feet on a thing that will move… pull your feet towards you and your bottom up into pike position. then lower back down slowly an under control! You can do it on your elbows too…you end up doing a kind of headstand at the pike-est bit of the move!
Deadlifting is awesome!
Just doing it makes you much more awesome! and on top of that it works a whole lot of muscles including your core! all round your core too…not just the front bit!!
Heavy deadlifts will give you an extremely efficient whole body work out, do these regularly and you will end up with a very strong core!
Having said that, make sure you know how to do them properly before you attempt them, and start off lighter than you think you can manage to get your technique right! You may hear of gyms that have banned them and people telling you about how they are dangerous, but they are not really, not if done with proper form and some common sense 😉
Information on how to do them can be found in these places:
among other places, better yet, ask one of your gym instructors to show you… they hang out in the gym for a reason after all!!
This is also an exercise that will stand you in good stead should you want to lift stuff up from the floor, such as furniture… It does, however, leave you with no excuse when asked to help move furniture…
Walk Out Press Up
Yes press up…I am still British :-p
this one is a good one 🙂 it shoehorns in upper body and core as well as kitting your hamstrings a bit too 🙂
the other good thing is it is almost endlessly adaptable!
As the picture says…start standing, bend forward until your hands touch the floor. Walk your hands forwards until you are in plank position, do a press up then walk your hands back towards your feet, using your core strength to lift your middle up, then return to standing.
if you can’t do a full pres sup, you can drop to your knees, but make sure you keep your core engaged!
to extend you can add in almost any plank variation before and/or after the press up! examples include, Cross body knees, slow mountain climber knees, multiple press ups, plank with one leg or arm or lifted (that is both one leg and one arm not both legs or arms and make sure they are on opposite sides, any variation from this is likely to make you fall down). the possibilities are endless!
As the man says these are all brilliant alternatives to crunches and will provide you with a strong core. There are many many more (Kettlebells for example…) and I can’t possibly list them all here. I just wanted to give you some idea of the possibilities out there and examine how I got myself a strong core while not doing very many crunches 🙂
All of the above are things I have at one time or another incorporated into my work outs so I know they work 😀
15 thoughts on “Core Considerations”
I thought it made a change from endless crunches!
It does. And a bit of variation to the “plain plank” which is so gooood but which I hate so much.
Yes! Planks are good up to a point but variation is definitely better!!
One of the many lessons I took away from my week at BLR was that you can completely remove crunches from your repertoire and STILL build a strong core – just through other exercises (like those you’ve mentioned here). I find that I’m especially aware of my core when I’m out hiking (particularly during the scrambles, where I’m bracing, squatting, and stretching out into unnaturally long lengths to get from boulder to boulder). 🙂
Really great (and informative) post!
Thank you 🙂
I almost never do crunches, but apparently have a strong core, so I thought it was about time I thought about what i did to get it!
There are so many things you can donand the really important bit is the bracing, you can turn just about any exercise into a core workoit with it 😀
Absolutely! And certainly with squats, if you brace and have proper form.
The absolute best part of having a strong core is that I’m finally free of lower back pain after a lifetime of achiness there.
Yes! Squats definitely!! It really makes a huge difference!
On my core course, the instructor said that just learning proper core bracing can help lower back pain almost immediatelt!
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Thank you for this! I absolutely hate crunches, so you’ve offered some great alternatives. I think I might introduce burpees into my workout. Do you recommend doing them in sets (although I will only try one first – I don’t want to hurt myself: “Small woman killed by burpee”)?
Burpees are amazing and awful! I would recommend sets 3 sets of 5 alternating with something else, build up to sets if 10!
I am glad you find this useful 🙂 crunches are dull and not that effective!
3 sets of 5 – got it!! I already do push ups/press ups, so maybe I should alternate with burps with something else…
Try mountain cimbers or squat jumps 🙂
Thank you, Sam! 😀
I just realized that autocorrect changed “alternate with burpees” to “burps”. Although I don’t have the greatest manners, I don’t plan on burping in between my burpees, haha!
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Haha i assumed autocorrect 😀