- Exercise & Fitness
Importance of a strong core and a 10 minute workout to help get you there
Importance of your core
Most people want six-pack abs, but the reality is very few will every have them. Or should I say....everyone has them already, but very few will have them showing because they are nicely hidden behind some stomach insulation. Well, this article isn't some trick to get your six-pack abs showing. There aren't workouts you can do ten minutes a day to get chiseled abs that you see in Hollywood movies. In order to get those, you have to do lots of abdominal work PLUS countless hours of cardio to get rid of all your body fat.
This article rather, is focused on the simple health benefit of a strong core. Core is simply all the muscles in the middle of your body (abs, sides, hips, back). Every movement you do in life is initiated in your core, it's the stability of your whole body. Strengthening your core may possibly give you some visual change that others appreciate, but the goal of strengthening your core is to improve your quality of life. Here are some important benefits of a strong, healthy core:
- Reduction in injury (all phases of life). This could be while working out, while twisting wrong at the office, to bending over to pick something up, to reaching overhead to put something away in the garage. Doesn't matter where or what, having a stronger core greatly reduces your chances of getting these phantom injuries. Who has time or energy to deal with an injured back for two weeks? No one.
- Improves posture. Many people are sitting in a chair, on a couch, or in a car for many hours of the day. As our muscles in our core get weaker, we tend to slouch or sit/stand in poor positions. Over time, this can strain other parts of your body, especially your back and spine. This can lead to bigger issues down the road, so avoid all of that with better posture. You will also find that you are often more comfortable while sitting or standing for longer periods of time once your core has begun to get stronger.
- Increases balance and stability. If you don't trust me, test it yourself. Place a hand on your stomach/side and bend all different directions. You will easily feel the muscles contracting and relaxing to keep you from falling all the way over as well as helping you get back into your previous position. Any form of bending or twisting or reaching starts with your core. Even when you isolate other muscle groups in your body, your core contracts to help with that. As odd as it sounds, people that trip or stumble, yet don't fall down, were saved by their core. Your core muscles contract to counteract movements of the body. It's almost like your safeguard.
- Aids in digestion. Who would have thought? Yes, a healthy core will aid in bowel movements and incontinence. Your digestion relies greatly on a group of muscles called the pelvic floor. These muscles, through contractions, move waste through your digestive system. If these muscles are weak or damaged, your body is more likely to have irregular/improper bowel movements. No one wants this...
Obviously, this list doesn't cover every single benefit, but just touches on a few of the main ones, hopefully getting you to understand the importance of strengthening your core in order to improve your quality of life (or preserve the good quality of life you already have).
So here is a nice 10 minute core workout you can do in the comfort of your own home to help improve it. You can easily adapt it to make it more challenging or less challenging depending on your starting condition. Simply do each of these 10 exercises for 1 minute each. Go straight from one exercise to the next. To make the workout easier, if you can only last for 30, 40, 45 seconds, or whatever amount of time, simply rest for the remainder of the minute before beginning the next exercise. The goal is to last the entire minute and keep a nice constant pace during that minute. Here are the exercises:
- Regular sit-ups. This is a nice, simple easy start that will help get your warmed up and shouldn't kill you to start your workout. Be careful not to put your arms behind your head and pull your head/neck while doing your sit-ups.
- V Sit Crunches. Only your bottom should be on the floor for this one. Feet together. Extend legs out and then bend knees back up to chest, all the while keeping your balance. To make this easier, you can place your hands on the ground to help you balance, which takes some of the force off your core.
- Plank arm-raises. This is a fun, yet challenging exercise. Get in plank position with your butt, body, back all in a straight line. Without twisting your body, alternate lifting one arm up and out in front of you. You must use your core to keep your balance and keep you from twisting and/or falling over. To make the exercise easier, spread your feet farther apart (or completely together for highest difficulty).
- Russian Twists. This exercise has many names, this is just what I've been taught it is called. Same starting position as V sit-ups. Sitting with only bottom touching the floor, knees slightly bent with feet together (off the floor). Interlock your fingers together and twist side to side touching your interlocked hands to the ground on each side of you. Go nice and fast during this exercise. To make more difficult, you can grab something with a little weight and hold that in your hands while you do it.
- Bicycle crunch. Lying flat on your back, with your head slightly lifted off the floor (hands behind your head or next to your head). Feet off the ground at about 45 degree angle. Begin moving your legs in the air like you are pedaling a bike. Then touch (or get close to touching) your elbow to opposite knee each time the knee comes up. This definitely has a rhythm to it, so you might want to try it out before you start the workout to get the feel of it. Some people like to go nice and slow and really focus on keeping the core muscles contracted, I personally like to go very, fast and get as many reps in as possible during that minute.
- Alternating Superman. Lie face down with arms above your head (like superman). Lift your right arm and left leg as far off the ground as you can (without discomfort or pain). Hold for a good second or two. Then repeat with other arm and leg. Just continue to alternate. This is great for your back.
- Plank Knee to Elbow. Standard plank position. Take one leg and bring it up and out to the side and get your knee as close as you can to your elbow (right knee to right elbow). Repeat process alternating legs. Do your best to not twist your body while doing the exercise, forcing yourself to contract your whole core throughout. This really targets your obliques (sides). Also, concentrate on keeping your body/butt straight. As you get tired, you will notice your butt wants to get higher and higher in the air. Do your best to avoid that.
- Single Leg Bridge. Lying on your back, bend your knees and pull your heels up near your bottom (maybe six inches away). Push your belly button to the sky to form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Then lift one leg and point it out to continue following the straight line. Hold this steady for 30 seconds, then switch legs. To make this easier, you can simply keep both feet on the ground and just do a double leg bridge. Don't let your hips and butt sag during the exercise.
- Side plank. Put your left forearm on the ground, and the outside of your left foot. Lift your body off the ground until it is in a straight line, with core contracted. Hold this position for 30 seconds before switching to the other side. To make it more difficult, lift your top leg and hold it up in the air.
- Fifer scissors. This is from the P90X ab workout routine. Lying on your back, legs straight out, lift both legs about 4 inches off the ground. Keeping your legs straight the whole time, lift one leg straight up in the air, while holding the other leg steady. Alternate legs (they will pass each other in the middle) like scissors. Do your best to keep your toes pulled back (flexed) and your legs as straight as possible. Don't let the bottom foot (or any foot for that matter) touch the ground. Hold each leg at the top for 1-2 seconds before alternating, this is not a speed exercise. Try to keep the pace throughout the whole minute.
There you have it, a great way to work on strengthening the core and getting a healthier body. Below are some videos and pictures to help explain the exercises in case you are unsure. Good luck and enjoy. I recommend that you never do this two days in a row, your body needs time to rest and recover, so 2-3 times per week is plenty.