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  • Writer's pictureAmy Hildebrandt

Core, Core, Core

Hitting the Gym: Core

Ah, core. The dreaded core. The part of the body we neglect the most. The part of the body where it feels like it takes the most work to strengthen. The reality is our core is always in action, it’s the degree to which we use it.

What constitutes our core & what does it do?

Lower back, hips, pelvis, and abdomen muscles all constitutes our “core.” There are approximately 35 different muscle groups that are responsible for generating all of our movement. We cannot move any part of our body without our core being activated. They stabilize, absorb forces, and transfer forces between the upper and lower extremities.

An obvious example of our core in action is when a rower is at the release. In the layback position, our core is very much activated to keep us sitting up from our hips and prevent rounding of the back. But as we know, the rowing stroke is a continuous motion with no stopping point. This means our core never has a chance to rest. It has to remain activated to keep us from slouching, protect our lower back, activate the gluteal muscles, and have a successful transfer of power to our lower and upper body.

So how do I strengthen my core?

I think the first question is actually “How do I actually activate my core?” There are two ways: drawing-in and bracing. Drawing-in is pulling the belly button towards to spine and can be likened to sucking in the gut to fit into tight pants. What actually happens is the abdominal muscles are contracting forming a corset to protect the internal organs and provide spinal stability. Bracing is conscious activation of the outer abdominal, obliques, and gluteal muscles. This would be likened to not slouching while sitting in a chair. If you are doing planks, you would be actively bracing your core to prevent your hips from dipping or needing to lift your hips. Whichever mode you’re using, make sure you keep breathing!

To actually strengthen your core, the less intensive answer is to consciously activate your core while going through your daily routine. Those with desk jobs spend a great deal of time in a chair. We don’t think about sitting tall from our hips, shoulder back, chest up. Taking 30-60secs every 30-60mins to check your sitting position will do wonders.

The more intensive answer is to specifically target the core with those “dreaded” core exercises: planks, crunches, twists, bridges, etc. But doing any type of exercise can target your core. Remember your core generates movement. It is your foundation. To have successful squats, deadlifts, cleans, curls, rows, lunges, dips, etc., your core is activated with either the drawing-in maneuver or bracing. For instance, if I am doing squats (barbell, dumbbell, bodyweight), I will actively brace my core to ensure that I am targeting my glutes and quads and not loading my lower back. My core is braced to hold the weight, keep my spine aligned, and center myself over my feet. If I am not consciously bracing my core, I am now asking my lower back to hold the weight, lift the weight, and not fall over. That is a recipe to blowing my back out.

Focused Core Circuits

As much as I make sure that I am activating my core while working out, I still want to specifically target my midsection. However, a core-centric workout can seem very daunting. In previous blogs, I have mixed in core-centric exercises into a full body circuit. Targeting while not making it feel it is core-centric. However, if you are wanting to have a more core-centric circuit, I suggest doing intervals. Start with a shorter amount of work time with equal rest. As you get stronger or more daring, lengthen the amount of work time, decrease the rest time, and do multiple rounds.

Example 1:

· 10 exercises

· 30secs on/30secs off

· 1 round, 10mins total

Example 2:

· 6 exercises

· 1min on/15secs off

· 3 rounds, 1min rest between rounds

· 16:30mins total

List of Core Exercises

There is a multitude of core exercises with a multitude of variations of the most basic exercise. When I put together a core circuit, I think about variation to make sure that I don’t wear out a muscle group (i.e. hip flexors). I also like to vary it up from laying down to sitting up to being on my stomach. To give you an idea, below are a couple of circuits. If you have any questions and/or need a modification due to difficulty or injury, feel free to reach out. Embrace the burn and have fun!

Example 1

45secs on/15 secs off, 2 rounds, 1min rest between

· Leg Lifts

· Bicycle

· Side Plank with Leg Lift (both sides)

If need to, drop to your knee but keep the hips off the ground

· Russian Twists

Focus more on quality than speed

Example 2

1min on/20secs off, 2 rounds, 1min rest between

· Vertical Scissors

· Horizontal Scissors

· Alternating Toe Touches

Reach for opposite toe

Control the descent, keep the knees and feet together

· Plank

· Scullers

Key here is to use the glutes to pull your hips to the sky

· Single Leg Hip Bridge (both sides)

2 count hold at top



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