Core training is always a hot topic. If we're honest, we all want that toned midsection for Summer, and from a health perspective, a strong core is vital. Especially as we get older and especially if we're stuck at a desk all day. Posture, balance, lower back health — they all relate to the strength of your core.
The core is more than just your abs. The rectus abdominis (your six-pack) — what we typically think of as the core — is only the top layer. Well-defined abs do not necessarily mean your core is strong — they just mean you have low body fat.
The core includes deeper muscles: your transversus abdominis, which lies under the rectus abdominis and together with the obliques acts like a corset on the sides of your body, providing stability, and then there are pelvic floor muscles holding your internal organs in, back muscles holding your spine in place, and the diaphragm, the main muscle of respiration. That's your core!
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All this makes it important to have varied training to strengthen the core maximally.
Here's my core training program that takes you from the basics to advanced in simple, progressive steps.
With my clients, we do one or two core exercises each session. I recommend you perform the Hollow and Dead Bug as part of your warmup, and then pick your favorite two exercises for after your main workout.
Bracing your core. Dr. Stuart McGill — a world-renowned biomechanist, who has conducted the most in-depth research into the core — advises that, whenever you perform "core training," you learn to brace your abs. Bracing is a much more effective technique compared with pulling your navel in. (Low Back Disorders, Stuart McGill, 2007)
One way I help my clients understand this concept is to imagine you're about to get tickled. You instinctively tighten your abs and waist; you roll your hips up and contract your rib cage down a bit. This is the same action as bracing your abs. We'll learn to do this more with the first exercise . . .