Looking to lose 10 lbs. this new year? Wanting to work on yourself after baby? Just wanting to get back on track after the holiday craze? Here are my Top Ten exercises to connect with your core.
Why is this important? The “core” has become a trendy topic. It is just a subset of deep muscles within your trunk, that allows you to have good control of movements. They attach along the spine, pelvis, hips and ribs and are important for nearly every task and activity we perform as humans.
- Diaphragmatic breathing for the core: the diaphragm has attachments along the ribs, and spine and is important for controlling for intra-abdominal pressures, for maintaining rib stability to provide “stiffness” in the trunk for movements. Performing this type of breathing is also great for stress management, immune system function, lowering heart rate and blood pressure. Lie on your back, legs outstretched. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Inhale and feel the belly rise, blowing up like a balloon. Ribs should expand out to the sides, but chest should not move much. Exhale, allowing belly to fall again. Spend 5-10 minutes daily connecting with your breath.
- Pelvic Brace for the core: the pelvic brace is the foundation of all core exercises, so mastering this one is essential. This is a continuation of the diaphragmatic breathing. Inhale, allowing the abdomen to blow up like a beach ball, expanding the ribcage, but not allowing the chest to rise. On Exhale, contract the pelvic floor, as if you are picking up a blueberry with your vagina (for the ladies) or you are pulling the turtle head back into its shell (for the guys). You will also feel your abdomen and spine muscles engage gently as well. Repeat this for 10 reps.
- Pelvic Floor: We have awakened the connection in the diaphragm and deep trunk, now we are going to focus on the pelvic floor, knowing that the other three muscles are working alongside. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat. Contract the pelvic floor and Hold 10 seconds, then rest 10 seconds remembering to breathe, repeat 10 reps. The second set for this one is to perform faster pelvic floor contractions, so contract, then relax 10 times.
- Leg raises for the core: Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat. Find your pelvic brace and hold, raising one leg up so it reaches a 90 degree angle with the trunk and slowly lower back to the floor. Monitor pelvic movement with one hand on the pelvic bone and upper abdominals with one hand on the bottom or the ribs. You do not want to see your abdominal wall “pooch” out or be over working for this motion. Repeat 10 reps each leg.
- Diamonds for the core: Now we are going to coordinate the muscles of the hip with the rest of the system. Lie on your stomach, with knees about 18 inches apart and bent so that heels fall together, forming a diamond or triangle shape. Begin with your Pelvic Brace, hold, while pressing heels gently and engaging your gluteal (butt cheeks). Hold 5-10 seconds and perform 10 reps.
- Bridge: This will work the hips alongside your core. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat. Find your pelvic brace with exhale, and raise your buttocks off the floor. Hold 10 seconds, rest 10 seconds and repeat 10 reps.
- Hands and Knees Rocking: Come into hands and knees. Find your neutral spine and perform a pelvic brace, hold and rock forward and back ward gently.
- Cat and Cow: In hands and knees, take a breath in, looking up, and allowing back to sag down, tailbone rising toward the ceiling. Exhale, and arch back up like a cat, while performing a pelvic brace. Repeat 10 times with gentle, slow breaths.
- Birddog for the core: Begin on hands and knees. Find your pelvic brace, and hold. Raise your right arm straight out so it is in line with your trunk. Do not allow your body to shift weight to one hip or the other. The goal here is to keep the spine flat so that a bucket of water would not tip over. Note to keep your spine in a neutral position, not too arched, not sagging down. Repeat 10 reps with each arm.
- Birddog, take 2: Now let’s add the legs! On hands and knees as before, find your pelvic brace. Keeping a neutral spine, that bucket of water sitting nicely on your low back, raise your right leg out behind you, in line with the trunk. Do not shift your weight to the other hip, work to maintain equal weight between the three limbs that are supporting you. Repeat 10 each leg.
Happy New year! Enjoy!
–Sarah Dominguez, PT, MSPT, CLT, WCS, CMTPT