The core is traditionally thought of as just your abdominal muscles. But your core actually consists of your abdominals, obliques, lower back and diaphragm. Some groups also include the muscle of the hip and chest. We are excluding those groups for the focus of these exercises but will work your core aka, the essential muscles. Most of these core exercises are uncommon because they don’t give you a pump, you can’t do mindless reps, or get that “burn”. They focus on improving your core’s primary functions: to breathe and protect the spine in the presence of motion.
Your diaphragm is a muscle that is used in efficient breathing. Deep belly breathing holds more oxygen and allow your lungs time to function properly. The lungs are to filter the air you breathe and it can’t do its job if it is under a lot of pressure as when chest breathing. The belly, however, can hold a lot more air and can be used to create inter-abdominal pressure to stabilize the core muscles to generate tension. The first skills in yoga, martial arts, and meditation all work on breathing. To challenge your core, deep breathing can be done in different positions like the downward facing dog or in handstands.
Fitness Tip : An easy way to check if you are belly breathing is to place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Then only the bottom hand should be moving.
This movement is gaining in popularity recently but specifically the bear crawl. The bear crawl is great but not everyone is ready to for this exercise. Crawl anyway you can and are comfortable. As you gain strength, progress to different crawls like army and baby crawling. Army crawling is done by keeping the chest against the ground and using the knees and elbows to generate movement. Baby crawling is just like a baby, on your hands and knees. There is a reason why babies crawl, they need to build strength in their whole body to be able to walk and move. It is a complete training tool that strengthens the core, legs, chest, shoulders, back, fingers. Crawling teaches our core to stabilize and allow the spine to move fluidly and safely. It is a basic movement that can and should be used in your core training program. Backwards, uphill, on your fingers, backwards uphill with eyes closed. Doesn’t matter which way you do it. Just do it. If you have to pick one exercise to only do; crawl, it can be done anywhere anytime for any distance.
An exercise I would recommend to someone who is healthy and able to be inverted for extended periods of time. Consult your physician and use wise judgement. The wall handstand is just an inverted plank. It is a great progression for people who are tired of doing the same old planks. It works on strengthening the muscles primarily in your core, shoulders, and forearms. It improves balance and strengthening of the hands and wrists. It sounds like an upper body exercise but be amazed at how the core, legs, and breathing are all challenged. Simply face away from the wall and backwards crawl up the wall till you are comfortably inverted. Place hands away to get more balance and leverage against the wall. Once you hit a spot with arms locked out and straight body, crawl yourself down. Slowly build to a completely inverted position then progressively increase the time you can hold. Always save energy on this exercise to be able to walk yourself down.
Back Bend (Fully Back Bridge)
We overly compress our bodies these days. We do crunches, hunch over, sit in chairs, and sit in our cars which over work our hip flexors and rounds our spines. We need to open up our bodies in the reverse. The yang to the yin of folding is extension. Training extension open up our body to movements we don’t ever experience and expose ourselves to. Our lower backs hurt and we are hunched over for a reason. The full bridge is the end result we want to get to. Lye on you back, place feet near your butt, and hands by your ears. Then in one motion press until your hips are open and there is a crescent moon shape to your body.
To progress to this position; hip bridges can be performed by keeping the upper back on the floor and extending your hips. The feet will be by your butt like before and the body should create a straight line from your knees, to hip, to chest. Hands will be kept at your sides and really squeeze your butt during the exercise.
The king of core compression exercises that are a staple of all gymnastics routines. This exercise works on global flexion versus the crunch which just works on flexion of the abs. Global flexion works on quads, hips, core, chest, and shoulders. The L-sit is usually performed off the floor only supported by your hands or when hanging. This L/V-sit exercise is on the floor or in a chair which allows it to be access able to everyone minimizing the skill. The goal is to get your face to your knees and hold that position. While sitting on the floor, legs extended together in front of you, reach your hands out towards your knees then life your legs while hands are in contact with the floor. Avoid the urge to sit back to use your body to counter balance to get knees closer and making the exercise easier. Feel the tension and burn. It is likely your quads will cramp and will need to be a walk around to get loose between sets.
These are 5 exercises that should be incorporated into your training program. Remove the crunches and understand the importance of strength versus aesthetic. It’s good to look the part, but it is much more important to be functionally strong and functionally healthy. Get out on the grass and crawl.