More to the Core: Core Training Part 2

A bit more about the core

Often times people mistake our core as being just one single muscle group.  However, for simplistic purposes, it consists of four major muscle groups: Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis, Obliques, and Erector Spinae.  These muscles encompass the front, side, and back of our body.  So, not just the “6 pack” we think of at the front, but the muscles running down the sides of our torso and lower back are included too.  

The core muscles above must fire and activate properly when completing any activity, not just in the gym, to practice proper movement patterns.  When designing a workout specifically, although core work can be incorporated into a warm up to ensure it is activating properly, it should be completed at the end of a workout.  Once activated in the warm up, the core muscles are firing the entire workout, whether you are performing a squat, bench press, or metabolic movement.  It will ensure our bodies execute proper form and maintain a neutral spine during the exercise.  Upon completing a workout, I save my favourite core drills for the end to fully work the core specifically once they don’t need to be used to accomplish the other tasks.

Core Stability vs Core Strength

As stated in my previous post, it is important to go back to basics.  If we cannot successfully perform something like a plank, more challenging exercises should not be attempted, or will not be executed properly.  This is where core stability comes in.  Core stability is the capacity to control movement of our torso, which leads to good posture, balance and performance of movements.  This is our starting point.  From there we go into core strength, the ability to actually apply force and create movement from our core.  To compare, a plank would demonstrate core stability whereas a wood chop with a cable system would be core strength as you rotate and move through the motion.

The good old sit up

“Do you have a crunch machine?” is often the first question I am asked when working in the gym.  I respond with a polite “No, sorry”, then cringe because I believe it is lack of knowledge and understanding of body movements that people perform the sit up.  The motion to perform a sit up or crunch is spinal flexion, something that alters our neutral spine (good posture), and promotes slouching and strained necks that already come with texting and sitting at desks and computers all day.  Try avoiding motions containing spinal flexion and opt for more positive habit inducing exercises. 

Below I have provided you, as promised, demos of the standard plank and deadbug.  Feel free to post any outstanding questions that may have not been answered here.  Additionally, I have also included a few of my favourite plank variations for those of you who are stuck and need some inspiration. 
 
Plank Cues:
-shoulders are directly overtop of your hands
-hands are neutral, not turned in or out
-head to toes (or knees) is one straight line, avoid dropping hips or having them too high
relax shoulders back and down away from ears

Deadbug Cues:
-engage core so lower back remains flat at all times, especially when initiating the movement
-keep arms at chest height
-everything is activated at all times, no resting arms and legs at bottom of the motion
 

Plank Variations:
These variations are simply just a starting point to get you thinking outside the box of a regular plank.  These will not only challenge your core, but make it fun.

Side Plank
-choose progression that works for you
-shoulder directly overtop of elbow
-face, chest, and belly button should all be facing side wall, as opposed to the ceiling
-hips should be stacked on top of one another
-relax shoulder down from ear

Plank Walk
-open feet
-shoulders over top of hands
-shoulders and hips remain still, facing forward
-press through heels of hands, alternating between a forearm plank and a hand plank

Hand Crosses
-open feet to avoid hips turning, giving you more stability
-alternating tapping shoulders with opposite hand
-shoulders overtop of hands

Leg Lifts
-forearm or hand plank, shoulders overtop of hands, body in one straight line
-lift leg an inch or two, keeping hips in line

Now go and push yourselves to challenge your core, but be aware of your body's limits.  When these exercises are performed correctly and safely, your will become stronger and you will be able to improve all of your other movement patterns too. As always, ask me questions if something doesn't make sense to you. 

Be fierce. Be strong. Be vibrant.

Rachel

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