How-to: Keep a Strong Core

Your core is the centre of strength in the body. A strong core leads to improved posture, performance, and pain management. The core consists primarily of your abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus, external and internal obliques, transverse abdominus), your lower back muscles (erector spinae, multfidi), your pelvic floor muscles, and your diaphragm (the main breathing muscle). Engaging these muscles whenever you execute a dynamic movement helps to stabilize your body. With a strong core you will find you are less prone to injury, have better balance, and have a more effective reaction time.

Core muscles - Ottawa massage blog

Below we’ve highlighted some key exercises to help improve core strength.

Abdominal Exercise

There are many abdominal exercises you could do to strengthen your core. The one we are highlighting here engages all the abdominal muscles as well as the lower back muscles. It’s the best bang for your buck!

1. Sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat. Lean slightly back  until your feet come up off the ground and you are balanced on your tail bone.

2. In the position, interlace your fingers and hold them in front of you, then cross your ankles. This is the starting position.

Ab twist - Ottawa massage blog

3. From the starting position, twist to one side with your torso so your hands reach the floor. Ab twist 2 - Ottawa massage blog

4. Bring yourself back to the starting position and repeat to the other side. Do the whole exercise starting at 5 reps per side for 3 sets. Rest in between each set. Work your way up to more reps as your abdominals build.

Lower Back Exercise

This next exercise is a two-in-one exercise too! We will focus on the low back part of it, but it also engages the abdominals.

1. Lie on the floor, arms to your side, palms up, feet together.

Leg raise - ottawa massage blog

2. Raise your legs so your feet are almost a foot off the ground. Lower the feet so you begin to feel your pelvis tilt and your low back engage. Hold here for 30 seconds. Do this 3 times.

3. To engage the abdominals and get more from this exercise, lift your legs to 90 degrees and lower them. Repeat this slowly for 10 reps and 3 sets.

Ottawa masasge blog - leg raise (3)

Pelvic Floor Exercise

Pelvic floor  ottawa massage blog

Kegel exercises are growing in popularity and are the go-to exercise for the pelvic floor. This is usually a good band wagon to hop on to, as a strong pelvic floor helps with urinary incontinence, gives needed support to the bladder, uterus, small intestine and rectum, and helps generate a strong core. (However, some people do overwork the pelvic floor, so if you do have issues with incontinence, bowel movements, pelvic pain, or related pains, you may benefit from consulting a pelvic floor physiotherapist to make sure you are engaging the correct muscles, to the correct degree.)

Follow these simple steps below.

1. Find the right muscle. Your pelvic floor muscles help stop urine mid-stream. If you are able to do this, you’ve found the right muscle. You should be able to isolate this contraction, without contraction of your abs, glutes or thighs.

2. Start in a relaxed position. Contract, hold for 5 seconds, release for 5 seconds. Slowly work your way up to 10-second contraction and 10-second rest. This should be done for 10 reps, 3 times a day.

(It’s not recommended to do Kegel exercises while urinating, except to check that you are using the right muscle, as this can ultimately interfere with proper emptying of the bladder.)

Diaphragmatic exercise

Crystal Veinot highlighted the diaphragm in her breathing post last month. (Check it out here!) The breathing Crystal taught is a great way to begin to engage the diaphragm. If you already engage your diaphragm, or want a more challenging breath, try this exercise: Sand bag breathing. Sand bag breathing adds resistance to the diaphragm during contraction, allowing it to strengthen.

Sandbag breathing - ottawa massage blog1. Find a sand bag (or a packet of beans, rice, etc.) that is of a comfortable weight, from five pounds (if you are new to this) up to 15 lbs (if you want to challenge yourself).

2. Lie comfortably on the floor and place the bag on your abdomen, right around the end of your rib cage.

3. Begin to breathe diagrammatically. As you inhale, your stomach should expand and the bag should rise. As you exhale, your stomach should slowly collapse back in, and the bag will follow.

4. Do this 1 minute at a time, working yourself up to a comfortable length of time. This exercise should be relaxing, not strenuous.

Your massage therapist can assist you with any of these exercises at your next appointment.

Pelvic floor image courtesy of Image courtesy of

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Three-time nominee and 2016 winner of Top Massage Clinic in Ottawa! At Body Poets Massage Therapy, we are committed to excellence in client care. We provide therapeutic, sports, pre- and post-natal, wellness, cupping, hot stone, ART, Thai massage, and more in a convenient, peaceful, downtown Ottawa location with free client parking. We are FSCO-registered and can bill your auto insurance company directly for treatment after a motor vehicle accident. We also bill directly to Great West Life and Green Shield. Our flagship office at 504 Kent Street in Ottawa is close to the Queensway and easy to reach by car, foot, bike or bus. Our satellite clinic in Almonte, Ontario is cozy and charming. Our online booking system makes it simple for you to reserve your appointment at any time. And our network of like-minded health professionals means we can refer you to practitioners in other fields who meet your needs for quality care. Step into the circle of care, at Body Poets.,,

2 thoughts on “How-to: Keep a Strong Core

  1. This is just what I’ve been looking for! With the abdominal exercise, how long should you hold the downward twist of your hands to the floor? Or is there no hold in that position?

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