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.
Below we’ve highlighted some key exercises to help improve core strength.
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.
3. From the starting position, twist to one side with your torso so your hands reach the floor.
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.
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.
Pelvic Floor Exercise
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.)
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.
1. 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 https://myhealth.alberta.ca/health/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=zm6406&