Safely Strengthen Your Core

On a weekly basis at least, I encounter ladies with back pain. We’ve all had it from time-to-time but some certainly seem to deal with it more than others. If you suffer from back pain, chances are you’ve been told that you need to strengthen your core. Studies into the causes of back pain have identified weak musculature of the low back and ‘core’ as a common factor in many cases of chronic back pain.

But the core exercises contained in this article aren’t just for those with back pain. We all need to understand how to safely strengthen our core. If we don’t, we can end up accidentally hurting ourselves and then it becomes a vicious cycle.

Also, after moms have a baby, it’s even more important to understand how to safely strengthen the core as your rectus abdominis muscle returns to its pre-pregnancy state (or close to it.) Your transverse abdominis, or TVA, is your innermost abdominal muscle that runs horizontally around your core like a corset. The rectus abdominis, or RA, muscle sits on top of the TVA at the front of your core and runs vertically. The RA has tendons crossing it horizontally and vertically, giving that “six pack” effect. And during pregnancy, the vertical tendon of the RA widens during pregnancy, allowing the muscles to move out to the sides giving extra room to mom’s expanding belly.

 

 

The core is the most important muscle in the body to be strong, no matter what stage of life you’re in. Whether you’re dealing with back pain, recovering after baby, working to improve your posture or any other reason, it’s important to have a strong core and even more important to strengthen it safely. The following 9 exercises will help you!

 

1. Engaging the Transverse Abdominis

Understanding how to engage your TVA muscle is important for *any* abdominal exercise performed on your back. From a lying down position with bent knees, tilt your pelvis up toward your head which will press your lower back into the floor. For any ab exercise performed on your back, your lower back should remain firmly pressed down at all times. If you can get a hand under your lower back, your TVA is not engaged/not strong enough for the exercise and you need to reposition until your back is in contact with the mat.

2. Toe Taps

This exercise is a test of keeping that lower back pressed down. Begin with your knees over your hips (not pulled in to your chest). While keeping the low back firmly pressed down, lower one foot to the floor and then the other. Progress up to lowering both together. 10 together or 5 each leg.

 

3. Dead Bug

Pressing the low back down, extend one leg and the opposite arm. Hold and breathe. Try to hold for 30 seconds and work your way up to 60 seconds per side.

 

4. Bird Dog

From hands and knees, lift your chest up out out of your shoulders and hold belly to spine. Extend opposite arm and leg, reaching long. Progress to holding on the same side and bringing the elbow to knee. 20 reps or 10 each side.

 

5. Side Elbow Plank Hip Dips

Begin with your elbow under your shoulder and your legs in a straight line from shoulders to toes. Bend the bottom knee. Lift the hips and lower almost to the floor but not quite. Progress to straightening both legs. I always tell my clients to visualize there’s a yoga strap under their ribs lifting them up – it helps! 15 each side.

 

6. Hip Bridge

Walk your feet in close to your hips. Keeping your heels pressed down, lift and lower both hips. Come down almost to the floor but not quite. Keep the knees aligned over ankles. Progress to single leg hip bridge. 20 reps or 10 each leg.

 

7. Warrior 3 Balance

Balance on one leg and extend forward, aiming for a flat position. Reach through fingers and toes, holding belly to spine. As you come back to the starting position, try not to put the foot down. 10 each side.

 

8. Hip Opener

Hold a weight at your shoulder and balance on one leg. Twist the upper body and knee in opposite directions while balancing. Try not to tap the toe down. 10 each side.

 

9. Teapots

Standing with your feet together, hold a weight in your hand and bend to the side as far as you can, then hinge back up. Don’t lean forward – only bend to the side. 20 each side.

 

Enjoy getting strong in a safe way! Send me any questions at whitney@girlpoweraustin.com.