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Exercises That Strengthen Your Core

The core is not built for explosive power. Its primary function is to stabilize the spine while you're doing everything from yoga to deadlifts to lifting your child (or fur baby). Because of this, the core needs to be worked out dynamically. Simple crunches won't get the job done. 

If you happen to sit at a computer all day, this article is definitely for you. Why? Sitting at a computer all day then going home (or to the living room if you work from home) to sit some more can weaken your core muscles, which means your back may not engage as it should. And at some point, if you go to pick up your child after a day of sitting, you could potentially hurt your back. By exercising your core regularly, you can minimize the risk of a back injury. 

Here are some great, dynamic core exercises to help your core stay strong and to stabilize that spine! One thing to remember is to keep the core tight when doing the exercises. To do that, try this trick I learned while volunteering at a Physical Therapy Clinic: Take your index and middle fingers and place them on the stomach. Take a deep breath and either cough or let out a loud 'HA.' The muscles that tightened during the cough or 'HA' are the same muscles to brace during the exercises where it calls for a tight core. 

CORE-STRENGTHENING EXERCISES

Perform three sets of the following exercises before moving on to the next one. Try to do this workout at least two times per week in addition to your current fitness program. 

Extended Plank – Start in a pushup position with knees off the floor, hands directly beneath the shoulders. Slightly round the back and pinch the glutes (butt cheeks) together and make sure to tighten your core. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat.

Tip: This exercise will help teach your body, wrists, and core how to sustain your body weight. This move helps with the body's natural ability to build the strength it needs to safely execute the pushup with ease.

Pushup – Get down on all fours into the extended plank position and place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Start to bend from the elbow and descend downward toward the floor where your body can safely return to the extended plank position again. Do 5 to 10 reps per set. 

Tip: If pushups are challenging due to a compromised core or upper body strength, allow the knee to touch the floor. If your wrists are uncomfortable, try pushing the fingertips into the floor to activate the muscles in your wrist. 

Pushup T Stabilizer – Begin in the pushup position making sure the feet are shoulder-width apart. Allow the chest to move to the floor by bending the elbows. Keep the core tight. While returning to the start position or "pushing up," rotate the torso while picking up one hand off the floor. This should allow the hand and shoulder to rotate to the ceiling. The final position should have the shoulders perpendicular to the floor. Return to the starting position by rotating the torso, allowing the shoulder to be parallel to the floor. Do 4 to 8 reps per side. 

Tip: This variation of the pushup is an added challenge to the core and shoulders. Try the coughing method to help engage the core.

Reverse Lunge to Press – Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell on one side of your body. Place the opposite hand on the hip, pinching the shoulder blade back. Brace abdominals and step back with the leg that has a dumbbell. Lower the body until the knee almost touches the ground. Press up with the front leg, bring the back knee up as high as possible, and balance on one foot. While balancing, push the weight overhead into the air performing the press. Try to get the bicep to line up with the ear. Return the weight to the shoulder. Do this 8 times on each side.

Tip: This is a great total-body exercise that works the core's stabilization muscles while also getting some of the big muscle groups involved. If performing the lunge is too difficult, try the next exercise. 

Single-Leg Overhead Press – While balancing on one leg with a slight bend in the knee, the opposite hand should have the weight in a press position. From the shoulder, press the weight straight into the air, bringing your bicep to your ear, then return the hand back to the shoulder. Repeat 8 times, then switch sides. 

Tip: Having a hard time balancing? Try to dig your toes in the ground for more control in the foot. This exercise is similar to the reverse lunge overhead press. It is also a great exercise to do if the lunge is too challenging, but it still provides just as many total body benefits as the reverse lunge to press. 

Single-Leg Squat on Floor – Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart and place the hands on the hips or close to the chest in front of you. Raise one leg a few inches off the ground and make sure that it stays next to the stance leg. Sink into your hips and squat down as far as you can without compensation. Press your standing leg into the floor to stand straight back up. Do 10 reps each leg.

Tip: This exercise not only builds strength, but it also can assess and fix common muscle imbalances that may be present in the lower extremities.  

Single-Leg Squat on Box – This movement is similar to the single-leg squat, but it provides more range of motion. Stand on a box, with the feet shoulder-width apart, and position one foot off the side of the box. Perform the squat to a comfortable depth until the heel lightly touches the ground, all while making sure the knee does not go over the toe. Do 10 reps on each side.

Tip: This exercise is great as an advancement from the single-leg squat as you get stronger.  

In closing, I enjoy doing these exercises myself and having my clients do them. For them, it's a great way to assess their fitness level and challenge their core. For me, it's a good reminder to make sure my core stays engaged for my bigger lifts as well as keeping my back strong and safe on the long days I sit at my desk working. Adding this to your current schedule at least twice a week will ensure that. Give it a try!

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About the Author: Formally a Hawaiian Tropic Pageant Queen, Evina Del Pizzo moved to the fitness industry in 2009. She started competing as an amateur Bikini Competitor and eventually worked her way to an Overall NPC Bikini Champion. After finishing her studies at CSUN, Evina became a certified Master Trainer and now is a gym owner. Follow her on Instagram: @evinadelpizzo

Photos: by JamesPatrick.com

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