To Your Health
December, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 12)
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You never know how strong you can be until you challenge yourself, which is why it's important to continually provide new stimulus to your muscles. A wide variety of movements that progressively become more and more challenging is a key component to a long-term successful exercise program.

It's important to train the core while standing on both feet as well as on one leg at a time. The lunge is a good example of a dynamic core stability exercise. It requires coordination of all the trunk and pelvic muscles. Maintain a neutral lumbar spine (not rounded, twisted, etc.) throughout the whole movement. When simple balancing exercises are familiar, you can try to perform core exercises on a soft foam pad. This can increase your trunk muscle activation. Since many sporting actions require strong rotational movements (baseball, tennis, golf), we can add weighted medicine ball exercises during stability ball training and soft pads surfaces to help guard against injuries.

If you haven't already begun core training, or you aren't sure if your current exercises are safely progressing your core strength and flexibility, you should try the following program. Complete three workouts a week, resting at least a day between sessions. On the days you do not do this core program, you can perform cardio workouts such as walking, biking, interval running or sprints. Talk to your doctor before getting started, particularly if you have a pre-existing health condition that could affect your ability to perform any of these exercises.

Key Exercises to Develop Your Core

The Benefits of Core Training:
  • Better posture and balance
  • Better energy transfer from one body part to another
  • More powerful performance
  • Enhanced protection against injury
  • Increased protection and "bracing" for your back
  • More stable center of gravity
  • More stable platform for sports movements.
  • Toned torso and abdominals
  • Healthy and flexible lower back
Traditional Ab Curl: This builds good abdominal strength and co-contraction of the abdominal wall musculature to hold the lumber spine and pelvis in correct alignment. Muscles targeted in the curl-up are the rectus abdominis and abdominal wall (transverse abdominis and internal obliques). Lie on your back with your hands behind the low back. Don't flatten the back to the floor. Keep one knee bent and the other knee straight. Tighten the abs and slowly crunch up from the sternum (that T-shaped bone in the center of your lower chest, also known as the breast bone), bringing your shoulder blades off the ground. Don't forget to breath in and out. 12-15 repetitions, 1 set.

On-Your-Back Bent-Leg Knee Raise: Lie on your back with your head and neck relaxed and your hands above your head, holding onto the sides of a bench or a piece of heavy furniture. Your feet should be flat on the floor. Use your lower abdominal muscles to raise your knees up toward your rib cage and face, the heels toward the butt, and toes to the shin. This will activate the external obliques, hamstrings and anterior tibialis (the muscle on the front of the lower leg/shin). Then slowly lower your feet back to the starting position. As your feet lightly touch the floor, repeat. 12 reps, 1 set.

Plank: The plank is a good example of an isometric exercise (static contraction of a muscle without any visible movement in the angle of the joint) that focuses on the recruitment of the core stabilizing muscles. In the beginning it might feel like a challenge without moving an arm or a leg occasionally.

Start to get in a push-up position, but bend your elbows and rest your weight on your forearms instead of your hands. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Pull your abdominals in; imagine you're trying to move your belly button back to your spine. Continue to brace the abdominals and put the low back in the neutral position. Hold this position for an increasing length of time up to a maximum of one minute, breathing steadily. As you build endurance, try to do at least a 60-second set. 2-3 sets, 1 minute per set.

Progressions/variations: The plank has many variations: You can plank starting out on the forearms and toes, then progress to more difficult challenges such as a plank with single-arm support or single-leg support. Planks can become even more challenging to the core with the use of a stability ball and challenge balance as well. Plank on a stability ball with the elbows on the ball or hands on the ball; plank on a stability ball with hands on the ball and feet on a bench.