Updated: Jul 16, 2021
Having strong core muscles is not at all about doing a ton of sit ups or having six pack abs. It is important for a lot of health reasons: to prevent back and hip pain, improve functional/sports performance, and to keep our bodies moving efficiently without pain. Even the term “core” can be confusing and for those who are or may not have been big fans of working out-it can even be intimidating.
So you want to improve your core muscle strength but you do not know where to begin and you certainly do not want to hurt yourself, What core muscle exercises should you do and how do you start?
There are 3 simple core exercises that you can begin right now, no equipment or experience needed!!! I will explain each one step by step, the same way I teach my own patients. You can follow at your own pace and progress as you feel ready.
Before we begin, here are a few tips to keep in mind when doing any type of core strengthening work:
All movement should be done slow and controlled
Perform each movement only to the point that you can control without “cheating” with other muscles or loss of position
Do NOT hold your breath-your core is separate from your diaphragm and it is important to train it without holding your breath
You never should experience pain (especially in the low back) when training your core
Start where you are and go at your own pace-if you need to do just a few reps-then rest, reset and continue-absolutely do it. You can work to increase your reps endurance as you get stronger. NOT A PROBLEM!
Okay, let’s get started!
1. Draw Down
We have a large muscle that acts as an anatomical girdle called the transverse abdominis (TA).
Its job is to stabilize the spine and support our internal organs. This guy plays a MAJOR role in core strength. Most of us do not know we even have one, much less what to do with it or how to find it.
The trick with contracting this deep core muscle is to do so without holding your breath. We do this through a draw down exercise.
P.S. this is NOT a pelvic tilt- if that is something you have learned in the past-your hips/pelvis should not move with this exercise.
Start: lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Use your fingers to find your hip bones and then slide then in and down about an inch into the soft part of your belly.
Exercise: work to pull your belly button down to your spine. You should feel the muscle tense up under your fingers and your back flatten to the floor/bed. DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH. Hold the muscle contraction for 3 seconds and BREATHE (did I mention you should not hold your breath?) then relax. Repeat 5 times and rest, repeat a 2nd set of 5. Work up 1 set of 10.
Progress: once you can comfortably do a set of 10, you can add in a leg slide, as shown below.
Start: as above
Exercise: draw down your belly button and hold (WHILE BREATHING), keeping your foot on the floor/bed, slowly slide your right leg out straight and then back to start position, then the left leg out and in. Repeat 2 sets of 5 and work up until you can do 10 reps in a row comfortably.
2. Bird Dog
Start: On hands and knees, with hands under shoulders and feet under knees. Pull your belly button to your spine-this should get you in a position where your back is flat and supported. There should be NO SAG in your back.
Exercise: holding this position, slowly extend your right leg out behind you and then back in without moving your spine or hips side to side. Repeat with left leg. Do 2 sets of 5 and work up to 1 set of 10.
Progress: Now that you have mastered extending your leg, you can now add the opposite arm.
Begin as above, but now extend your right leg out behind you while lifting left arm in front of you, then back to start. Switch to left leg out and right leg in front. Do not let your hips or back twist/move side to side. Do 2 sets of 5 on each side, working up to 1 set of 10. All other rules apply!
3. Side Plank
Now do not let planks scare you-you will start slow and work up. They are a great core muscle strengthening exercise and -you can do this.
Start: lie on your right side propped up on right elbow and knees bent, with feet behind you. Your legs should be in line with your body (do not have knees in front of hips).
Exercise: push your body away from shoulder (you do not want to sink and be hanging in your shoulder joint), then push your hips off the bed/floor and hold for 10 seconds. Relax and repeat 3 times. Flip over to do the other side. Increase your time as you are able up to 30 seconds on each side.
Progress: when you are able to do 3 times for 30 seconds on each side, then do the same but with your legs extended out straight. Go back to holding 10 seconds and work back up to 30 seconds.
There you go!!! You have officially started a core muscle strengthening program. This is a great place to start if you are a beginner or have been away from strength work for a bit.
Remember, if you have pain or cannot hold/control a certain position, stop and reset. Take a break and start again. Start slow and progress at your own pace. Core muscle strengthening is all about control, not speed.
In no time you will be a lean, mean, core-stabilizing machine. You got this!
Stay Well & Feel Good,
Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.
Hi! I am Dr. Kim MacDonald. I am a physical therapist who specializes in empowering my patients to optimize how they move their bodies and improve their ability to do the things they love regardless of age, experience, or capabilities.
My experience in the health care field allows me to teach the tools you need to ensure that you are working safely to improve your pain and maximize your physical potential.
If you would like to know more about how you can help yourself be healthier and live a more active lifestyle, join me here