Core & Abdominal Exercise Essentials

core picStrengthening your core is essential in maintaining back health, ideal posture and for injury prevention. Core conditioning is much like building a house – creating a solid foundation is the first step. Lay the groundwork with proper form and specific techniques, and you’ll create the intrinsic strength and stability necessary to perform more advanced moves and therefore gain better results from your workouts. This article is the first in a series on “core creation” – developing a strong, stable midsection. First, we’ll focus on the building blocks with a few basic, yet critical techniques:

Pelvic Tilt. The pelvic tilt is a movement designed to ensure proper spinal alignment and engagement of deep abdominal muscles along the pelvic floor. To perform the pelvic tilt, lie flat on your back with knees bent as in a sit-up or crunch position. You may notice that in this position, there is a natural curvature of your lower back, with space between your back and the floor. Tilt your hips so that your hips bones “roll” towards your ribcage and press your lower back against the floor. Firmly hold your low back to the floor for 3 seconds and then relax. Perform for an initial 10-15 repetitions. The floor provides a point of reference from this position; you can also perform the pelvic tilt in a standing position. When performing the tilt from a standing position, grip your hips by placing your forefingers on the front of your hip bones and wrapping your hands around so that your thumbs grip the back of your hips. Align your hips so that your lower back feels neither curved (sway back) or rounded (slouched). Find the position where your lower back feels straight – this is what is referred to as neutral or “natural” spine. One tip for assuming this position is to imagine that your hips are a bowl full of cereal: you don’t want the cereal to spill out the front (sway back with hips tilted too far forward) or out the back of the bowl (slouched back with hips tilted too far back and rounded).

Abdominal Bracing. Abdominal bracing is the process of recruiting deeper, inner unit musculature. In addition to the rectus abdominus (six pack) and obliques, the transverse abdominus lies underneath the more superficial muscles and surrounds the spine as a stabilizer. Bracing your abdominal muscles engages this deep muscle. Brace your abdominal muscles by “drawing in” slightly as though pulling your belly button inward. Avoid holding your breath when performing the abdominal brace, and breathe from your chest. Once you begin to draw in, bear down as if preparing to take a punch to the stomach. The sensation should feel similar to the contraction created when you cough or sneeze. The trick and challenge with abdominal bracing lies in being able to maintain the brace as you move. Practice first at your desk, while driving in the car, at home on the couch, etc. and then implement the technique into your workouts with simple movements such as a basic crunch.

The pelvic tilt and abdominal bracing are the two key, foundational techniques to develop when beginning to work towards creating a stronger, more stable core. They can be performed everyday and over time, integrated into your exercise routine both with “ab” exercises and other upper, lower, and total body movements.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll look at some basic techniques for stabilizing the core through a variety of isometric and kinetic exercises.      

Jason Bosley-Smith, CSCS, FDN is a personal trainer and lifestyle coach as well as a Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist. He is the founder of www.digestivedetective.com – a comprehensive health, fitness and training website that provides articles, podcasts, fitness videos, webinars and customized online training/coaching for individuals seeking to improve the way they feel, function, look and live.

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