Read these 34 Core Stability and Strength Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Balance tips and hundreds of other topics.
Three great core strength exercises, according to www.bodybuilding.com, include abdominal sit-ups, incline sit-ups and what are called lying Superman raises. Add these to your core strength training for optimal results. Here's how to do all three:
Lie on your back on the floor. Roll up a towel or mat and slip it underneath your lower back, just above the waistband (the size of the towel affects your body position during this movement - use a fairly large towel).
Your knees should be bent about 90 degrees. Keep your feet close together and knees fairly wide apart. This prevents the hip flexors from having a direct line of pull, helping to minimize their involvement.
Do not anchor your feet or have someone hold them down. This automatically activates the hip flexors. You will get the most out of this exercise by minimizing their involvement.
The difficulty of this exercise depends on where you hold your hands. The hardest position is above your head at arms-length, then beside your head, then across your chest, then straight down between your legs or at your sides. Start with the easiest first then progress to the other positions as you get stronger.
You are now ready to begin.
Keeping your torso straight and stiff, start the sit-up by tightening your lower abs then lifting your upper body off the floor.
As you continue up, imagine trying to push your face up against the ceiling (think up, not around).
When you reach about 25 to 30 degrees above horizontal, hold there for a second or two and squeeze your abs hard.
Keep your lower back in contact with the towel at all times and always maintain tension in the abs.
Lower yourself down slowly and under control. Do not just drop back to the ground. The negative portion of this exercise is extremely effective.
Remember to adjust your arm position depending on the strength of your abs (see above).
Set an incline sit-up board to a slight incline. If you don't have an incline sit-up board, you can use an adjustable incline bench, a decline bench, a step platform with a riser under one of the ends or a flat bench with something under one end. You can even use a propped-up 2-by-6 board.
Your head should be on the higher end with your feet placed on the floor.
The execution is exactly the same. The only difference is that the tension on the abs is much less due to the greatly improved leverage in this position, allowing even people feel that their abs aren't strong enough to do the exercise.
Lying Superman raises:
Lie face down on the floor with your arms stretched out directly overhead (like Superman flying, hence the name).
Raise your left arm and right leg into the air at the same time, also raising your chest slightly off the floor. Hold there for a second and squeeze the muscles of your lower back. Lower your limbs back to the ground then raise your right arm and left leg and hold for a second.
You can push down with the hand that is on the ground to help raise your other arm and chest higher off the ground. This exercise, even though it only uses your limbs as resistance, provides an excellent way to strengthen the lower back muscles.
Lie face down on a Swiss ball, making sure that the ball is securely under your hips and lower torso. Your toes (or knees, for beginners) should be on the floor, and your hands should be behind your head (though be sure you do not pull your head forward – you could strain your neck). Slowly roll down the ball, lifting your chest off the ball and bringing your shoulders up until your body is in a straight line. Make sure your body is in alignment (that is, be sure your head, neck, shoulders and back form a straight line), your abs are pulled in, and that you are breathing continuously. Repeat ten to twelve times.
Experts say an exercise ball workout is great for your abdominals for the following three reasons:
1. Comfort - an exercise ball conforms to your back, allowing you to exercise and flatten your abs without straining your back.
2. It ramps up your exercises with ease - it's simple to increase the difficulty of your exercises. You also will get the most benefit from each abs exercise you do.
3. Convenience - exercise from home where you have privacy, can do it when it's convenient for you and don't have to deal with commuting to the gym, waiting in line for equipment or gym membership fees.
Some fitness experts tout the stability ball as the best thing to happen to strength training since the exercise mat. You not only can use them as a substitute for a weight bench, but you also can do dozens of exercises using just the ball and your body weight. These exercises strengthen and tone every major muscle, especially your "core" - your abdominal, back, and hip muscles.
Here are some stability ball exercises to try:
Wall squats: stand with an inflated exercise ball between your back and the wall, so the ball is supporting you from your hips to your shoulders. Your feet should be slightly out in front of your body. Keeping your torso erect, and eyes facing forward, bend your knees and squat down rolling along the ball toward the floor until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold that position for 5 seconds; then return to the starting position.
Calf raises: stand a few feet away from a wall with your exercise ball between your abdomen and the wall. Lean forward into the ball so that your body forms a straight, angled line from your heels to your head. Exhale, and rise up onto the balls of your feet. Pause, inhale and lower yourself back to the starting position.
Ball push-ups: lie face down on an inflated exercise ball with both hands on the floor. Walk your hands out, allowing the ball to roll beneath your body until the ball is under your shins. Your hands should be directly below your shoulders, so it looks like you're ready to do a push up. Keeping your torso straight and abs contracted (concentrate on pulling your belly button to your spine), bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor. Stop when your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Pause, and return to where you started.
Stability Ball Exercises:
Stability ball twist (beginner level):
Lie back on a stability ball with your feet on the floor. Hold a medicine ball at chest level and extend arms.
Keeping your butt on the ball, slowly rotate your torso to the left until your knuckles are pointing to the wall.
Return to center and repeat on the other side.
Roll and Curl (intermediate level):
Begin in a full push-up position with tops of your feet resting on a stability ball, hands on floor shoulder-width apart.
Keeping your abs and glutes tight, bend your knees to roll ball in toward right side of chest.
Extend your legs to roll ball back to start; repeat to the left.
Medicine ball twist (advanced level):
Lie face up on floor holding a medicine ball in both hands overhead, knees bent 90 degrees, feet on floor.
Crunch up, twisting shoulders to the right while bringing ball to right side of thighs; at the same time, bring knees toward the left.
Return to start and switch sides.
Core muscles are composed of the abdominal muscles, the lower back, and the thoracic and cervical region of the spine. These areas serve to provide stability, support, and a solid base for the rest of the body to function maximally.
Weak core muscles contribute to all kinds of problems in the body, the most prevalent of which is lower back pain. By strengthening the muscles that help support the spine and improve posture, you can dramatically decrease the symptoms of lower back pain.
The core, as it's known in strength training circles, consists of all the muscles in your abdominal and lower back areas. This includes all the abdominal muscles as well as the muscles associated with the spine and the hip flexors.
These muscles all work in harmony to provide stabilization for your body and to transfer power from the legs to the upper body and vice versa.
The core muscles lie deep within the trunk of the body. They generally attach to the spine, pelvis and muscles that support the scapula. They stabilise these areas to create a firm foundation for coordinated movement of the legs and arms.
The fitness industry is beginning to recognize the benefits of developing "core strength" for all forms of physical activity. Core training improves posture and body alignment.
Here are some examples of core stability exercises that you can do to improve the muscles in your "trunk".
Try standing balanced on one leg and slowly swing the other leg back and forth (as you would in full running action). Avoid rotating, twisting or dipping your pelvis. Once you have mastered this exercise, practice doing it with your eyes closed.
Practice forming a "back brace" - by tightening up the abdominal muscles. You can do this by:
a) pulling your belly button inwards without flattening your back
b) then tightening your pelvic floor muscles as if you were stopping the flow of urine when you have a pee
c) then making sure that your breathing is relaxed while you are holding the brace
Lie on your stomach and then brace your back and lift opposite arms and legs/arms and legs on one side/all arms and legs at once. Make sure that your back does not arch at all during this movement.
You've seen them in the gym, the members who drape their bodies over an exercise ball to do crunches in various positions. Perhaps you've never tried it for fear of doing it wrong, hurting yourself or just plain drawing odd looks. Well, here is a guide to how to do those crunches using an exercise ball so next time you see a free ball at the gym you can grab it and get started.
Here's how to perform a great exercise ball workout for your abs:
Using a large exercise ball, lay your back on the ball with your feet placed firmly on the floor. Your lower back should be centered on top of the ball. Place your hands on either side of your head. Crunch your upper body forward and roll your shoulders towards your hips. Be sure to contract your abs at the top of the movement for a one-count. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat. Also, for added muscle building, hold a weight plate across your chest for added resistance.
For the inexpensive price of $5 to $10, an investment in resistance bands is certainly worth your time and money. The bands work your chest, biceps, triceps, abs, shoulders, back and quads.
Fitness Magazine rates them high because of their varying levels of resistance, portability and great versatility. Resistance bands are suited to most fitness programs. Experts say you can work out with these bands every day for a month and not hit the same muscle the same way twice.
Travelers are buying resistance bands, tucking them into their suitcases and using them to work out in their hotel rooms. But the best new use of them, according to the magazine, is how they're popping up in yoga and Pilates classes. They add resistance and challenge, so you can work your arms and legs as well as your core.
If you're looking to start working out your abs, check out these five abdominal workout tips from fitness experts at www.abs-exercise-tips.com before you start to make sure you are set up properly and are not in danger of injuring yourself.
1. Before starting any abdominal exercise, tighten your stomach muscles by "drawing in" your belly button to your spine - this helps stabilize your hips, pelvis and lower back as well as strengthening your deepest abdominal muscle - the transverse abdominus.
2. Avoid lifting with your neck muscles - make sure to keep your chin tucked in a neutral position with a space between your chin and chest.
3. Avoid flexion exercises if you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis - a standard abdominal crunch is an example of a flexion exercise that can be harmful on your lower back if you have osteoporosis. Please contact your doctor first before starting any abdominal exercise program.
4. If you can't do an exercise with proper form, wait until you are stronger and start with easier exercises. You can easily injure your lower back or neck if you try to perform exercises that are too advanced. Start with the exercises you can do with good form first.
5. Discontinue any exercise that increases your pain. If any abdominal exercise increases pain in your lower back, abdomen, pelvis or hips, discontinue the exercise and consult your doctor or medical professional first.
If you're wondering what the right exercise ball for your height is, check out these guidelines brought to you courtesy of the editors at Fitness Magazine.
As a general guideline, anyone under 5 feet 10 inches tall should choose a 55-centimeter ball; those over 5 feet 10 inches should use a 65-centimeter model.
Your thighs should be parallel to the floor when you're sitting on the ball. If you're in between sizes, you can cheat a little by over-or under-inflating it, experts say. Keep in mind that an under-inflated model is easier to use and stabilize because more of its surface is in contact with the floor.
According to Fitness Magazine, research shows that combining resistance bands to dumbbell workouts can increase lower-body strength three times as fast. That's because the bands' elasticity challenges the muscles throughout a greater range of motion.
Here are some quick exercises you can do with dumbbells and resistant bands that take only 5 minutes and can triple your workout results:
- Begin in a modified push-up, knees on floor
- Place dumbbells on floor under shoulders, resistance band across upper back; hold an end of band in each hand
- Do one full push-up with hands on weights, then drive left elbow toward ceiling, bringing dumbbell to ribs
- Lower weight; repeat on right side.
- Do 8 to 12 reps per side.
Lateral lunge with side raise:
- Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart
- Anchor one end of band under right foot
- Hold other end with dumbbell in right hand
- Bend right knee, shifting weight to right leg
- Raise right arm out to side parallel to floor, elbow slightly bent
- Do 8 to 12 reps and then change sides
Squat with biceps curl:
- Stand on center of band with feet slightly wider than shoulder width, holding a dumbbell and end of band in each hand
- Keeping elbows near sides, curl weights toward shoulders
- Lower dumbbells as you squat
- Stand and lift weights; do 8 to 12 reps.
Stationary lunge with triceps kickback:
- Stand in a lunge with right foot back
- Place center of band under left foot
- Hold a band end and a dumbbell in each hand, extend arms behind you, keeping your chest lifted
- Repeat for 4 to 6 reps, then switch sides.
Reverse lunge with front raise:
- Stand with feet together and one end of band under right foot
- Hold the other end of band and a dumbbell in left hand
- Place right hand on hip
- Step left foot behind you and bend both knees 90 degrees
- Simultaneously, raise left arm in front of you to shoulder height
- Lower and repeat
- Do 8 to 12 reps; switch sides.
It is important to stretch your hips before core strength exercise. That is because hip flexibility may be even more important than back flexibility for preventing back injury.
Try this stretch after you exercise, courtesy of Prevention Magazine:
Take a giant step forward with your left leg until that knee is directly above that ankle. Drop your right knee toward the floor, and lower your hips toward the floor. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg.
According to Prevention Magazine, it's best not limit core strength exercises first thing in the morning.
That's because during the night, your disks fill with fluid, making your spine tight and stiff in the early morning hours and increasing your risk for injury. If you must do a core strength workout in the morning, do a longer warm-up - about 15 minutes - to allow some of that fluid to disperse.
Otherwise, do yourself a favor and exercise your core later in the day when your back is loosened up.
When doing any type of strength training regimen, you should make sure that when you targeting a certain muscle group that the opposing muscle group is being trained as well (though not necessarily on the same day). For example, if you are doing strength training exercises for your chest, you should include back training exercises in your regimen as well.
Fitter1 Tip: Medicine balls are available in a variety of sizes for different uses and to suit the ability of different users. Use a medicine ball to train functional stability, muscle coordination, and reaction time. Combine a medicine ball with a balance board for a more complete workout.
Core strength is a hot topic in the fitness industry. Athletes and trainers are beginning to understand the importance of it.
The time-constrained triathlete cannot afford to exclude core strength as part of his or her training. The following program is designed for an in-season triathlete, can be done anywhere and with no equipment. And as the athlete adapts to the exercises, the program may be completed in as little as 15 minutes.
Coordinate the exercises within your training week. Go easier on a day when you feel tired and try to push yourself on your easier days. And remember to begin the program conservatively because it is better to realize you could have gone harder then to wake up too sore to move.
Here are the exercises recommended by fitness professionals at www.beginnertriathlete.com for triathletes looking to improve their cores:
Knees bent/feet flat on floor. Fingertips behind your ears. Lead your right shoulder towards your left knee. Keep your head neutral. Your shoulders will only come off the ground a few inches. Do not come down too fast. Do not lead your elbow to your knee.
Knees bent/feet flat on floor. Bring arms up even with your chest, reaching up towards the sky. Keep arms straight. Pick a point above and reach for it. Your shoulders will come off the ground a few inches. Come back slowly. A variation is to keep heels on the ground, but toes off the ground.
Lay face up. Knees bent. Feet flat on the ground. Hands on the ground extended by your side. Lift your hips/butt off the ground. Lift one leg off the ground and extend the knee. Then bend the knee and return to starting position. Repeat with the other leg. Be sure to keep your hips neutral; do not let them rock to either side. A variation is to bend your elbows and point fingers up, or straighten arms and point entire arm up.
Begin on your hands and knees. Engage the core muscles. Lift the right arm straight in front. At the same time move your left leg straight back (not up). Hold for one to two seconds and return each limb to its starting position. Repeat on other side. Your hips should not rock to one side. Keep the core engaged the entire time.
Lunge and twist:
Step out with your left foot and assume a lunge position. While facing forward, bring your arms out, shoulder level, parallel to the ground, hands clasped. Twist at the trunk to the right side until your shoulders are completely turned. Imagine your arms have moved from 12 o'clock to 3 o'clock. Remain in the lunge position, but bring arms back to starting point. Finish one set, then switch to the other side.
Sit and balance yourself so that your legs can come off the ground. Extend your right arm overhead, next to your ear. Extend your left arm to the side at shoulder level. Bring your left arm up to meet your right hand (simulating an overhead clap). Keep your left arm overhead, bring right arm down to shoulder level then back up to meet the left, and repeat. One repetition equals left arm meets right, right goes down then back up, left goes down. The clapping motion may be done quickly. Keep your legs off the ground entire the entire time.
Double leg raise:
Lay face up, feet straight in front of you. Place your hands either under the small of your back, or at your sides. Keeping your legs straight, bring them up until the soles of your shoes face up. Under control, bring them down. Before they touch the ground, bend your knees towards your chest, then extend your legs and repeat. You may need to let your heels touch the ground between each raise/tuck combination. Work yourself from raise-tuck-touch ground repeat to raise-tuck repeat. The raise and tuck together are considered one repetition.
Lay on your right side. Prop yourself on your right hand, and balance on the side of your right foot. Bring your whole body off the ground (only contact points are the hand and foot).
Contrary to popular belief, great abs are not created by doing hundreds of crunches a day, according to experts. So stop doing 100 sit-ups every night and start thinking about your form during those sit-ups.
Fitness professionals say when doing abdominal exercises, remember that your abs are just like every other muscle in your body. You wouldn't do 100 bicep curls or 100 tricep curls, right? If you don't feel fatigue after just a few reps, then you are not working the muscle correctly. To make strength gains with your abs, you have to follow the same principles that apply everywhere else.
So slow down on your ab exercises and concentrate on form instead of how many you've done. In this case, quality is definitely better than quantity. If you can do 50 or more crunches before you're fatigued, you should check with a fitness professional about correcting your form.
Your core is your torso, with focus on the abdominal and low back area. There are a lot of exercises you can do to strengthen this part of your body. Do crunches for your abs and extensions for your back. Do them on an exercise ball and you will get better results because the instability of the ball recruits the core muscles.
A weight vest is a vest that you strap onto your body that can add between 15 and 100 pounds to your frame. How much weight you add to your frame depends on your overall health and what exact activity you wish you do with it.
For example, a basketball player or rock climber would be better off using a 30 pound basketball vest, and a body-builder would be better off using the 75 pound vest. Also, women prefer the women's designs because they fit them more comfortably.
Athletes use weight vests for extra weight when doing basketball, football and martial arts. Firefighters use them to train. Military men and women use them for a balanced source of body weight for running, pull ups, push ups and even walking.
Weight vests are also used by those working out who want to lose fat by increasing the amount of calories burned during an aerobic activity.
Exercise in pursuit of the “six pack” – such as sit ups and crunches – targets the superficial abdominal muscles, most often the rectus abdominus. This only partly trains your core, and overdeveloping those superficial muscles can result in weak core stability. Therefore, to really capture the benefits of core strength, including better alignment, balance and functional movement (as well as flat abs!), it is necessary to work the deep, underlying abdominal and back musculature, such as the transverse abdominus (TVA), the internal and external obliques, the latissimus dorsi (lats), and erector spinae (spinal erectors) muscles that combine to make up the "core". One way to make sure that you are targeting these deep muscles is to get off solid ground and onto an unstable surface, such as a Swiss ball or a balance board. The instability created by this equipment forces the user to adopt the correct posture in preparation for and during exercises, and maintaining that posture engages the deep muscles. Add work to that, and it's a powerhouse combination to strengthen your core.
Think of your “core” as your trunk - core muscles lie deep within the torso, and are attached to the spine, pelvis, ribs and shoulder blades. These muscles stabilize the spine and create a solid base of support from which we can generate functional and powerful movements of the extremities. Building core strength and stability can correct postural imbalances, which can lead to injuries, and will help you to develop functional fitness, or fitness essential to regular activities and daily living.
The Feldenkrais Method can help you increase your ease and range of motion, improve your flexibility and coordination, and (re)discover your capacity for graceful, efficient movement. Based on principles of physics, biomechanics and an understanding of learning and human development, the Feldenkrais Method enables you to include more of yourself in your functioning movements, becoming more aware of your habitual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities and learning new ways of moving. The Feldenkrais Method increases your awareness and sensitivity, thus enabling you to live your life more fully, efficiently and comfortably.
Sit on a balance board or a wobble board. Leaning backward slightly, lift your feet off the ground and try to stabilize your abdomen to balancing yourself on the board. This alone is a great deep abdominal work-out. To take it to the next level, lean further back while lowering your legs slightly, then bring your upper body and knees closer together. Stay balanced the whole time.
Traditional yoga is generally focused on breathing and flexibility. While balance is necessary to many yoga poses, few forms of yoga specifically concentrate on developing balance. Not so with Iyengar yoga. A form of Hatha yoga, Iyengar yoga gives primacy to the physical alignment of the body while performing the poses. The Iyengar school teaches that there is a correct way to do each pose, and that students can perfect poses over time through consistent practice. Iyengar yoga utilizes many props, including blankets, blocks, straps, pillows, chairs, and bolsters, to assist students in attaining ideal alignment. Poses are held longer than in other forms of yoga to allow time for correct alignment to be achieved. Holding the poses develops balance, builds strength, and increases flexibility. Iyengar yoga is suitable for beginners, as well as people who are ill, elderly, and overweight. Because perfect alignment is a long-term goal. Iyengar yoga is also good for the physically active and the experienced.
Kneeling on a mat or other soft surface with a Swiss ball in front of you, place your arms parallel to one another on the ball. Pull your belly button towards your spine and tighten your torso, and slowly roll forward until your chest touches the ball. Keeping this tight and aligned form, slowly pull your body back using your arms and abdominals. Try not to collapse as you roll forward. Repeat ten to twelve times.
Borrowing a lot of moves from dance therapy, Pilates changes the way people use their bodies by building core strength and teaching movement that originates in the core. Students of Pilates exercise begin to move more gracefully, with better posture and more fluidity. Pilates tones up the torso, training the abdominal muscles, hips, buttocks and lower back to work together as the body's "powerhouse."
The Alexander Technique is a simple and practical method for improving ease and freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination. The Alexander Technique focuses on teaching people to use of the appropriate amount of effort for a particular activity, thus giving an individual more energy for all of his or her activities. Rather than a series of treatments or exercises, the Alexander Technique focuses on re-educating the body and mind, helping and individual to discover a new balance in the body. This mental realignment can help relieve tension, which can disrupt physical (as well as mental) balance, and the approach may be well-suited to people with severe mobility issues, the ill, the overweight, or others for whom a fitness regimen might be difficult to start, as the method can be applied to sitting, lying down, standing, walking, lifting, and throughout other daily activities.
Balance is such a fundamental part of mobility that you can find components of balance training in most physical activities, even if no one explicitly defines it as balance training or uses specialized equipment. Nevertheless, as the importance and effectiveness of balance training in performance optimization, injury prevention, and rehabilitation has become better documented, schools of exercise that focus on developing balance and core stability have developed. Many of these disciplines are well-established, and many were once very specialized for specific activities (such as dancing). Now, physical trainers, physical therapists, athletes and enthusiasts tout the reverberating benefits of Pilates, Gyrotonics, Yoga, the Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique, offering practitioners increased strength, improved flexibility, better balance and generally improved mobility.
Developed by Rumanian dancer Juliu Hovarth in the late 1980s, Gyrotonics has been described as "yoga with resistance." Based on components of yoga, ballet, swimming, dance, tai chi and gymnastics, Gyrotonics is a fluid system of exercises performed on a specialized resistance machine to help practitioners stretch, bend, twist, and turn their muscles with minimal effort. Gyrotonics works all major muscle groups interdependently to encourage a complete range of circular motion, full articulation of stabilized joints, and improved balance and coordination. Other benefits include cardiovascular and aerobic stimulation and neuromuscular rejuvenation.
Editors at Fitness Magazine say achieving sexy shoulders or firm triceps is only a medicine ball away. To work your shoulders at different angles, try this move with the medicine ball:
1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a medicine ball with your right hand against a wall at arm's length.
2. Keeping hips and shoulders square to the wall, outline the letters of the alphabet by tracing the ball against the wall.
3. Aim to get to "Z;" if you have to stop early, start over, shooting for the next furthest letter next time and work your way up.
4. Repeat with your left arm.
How to target your triceps:
1. Sit on floor with both hands on a medicine ball behind you, feet flat.
2. Raise your hips and bend your elbows at about 90 degrees.
3. Extend arms to press up.
4. Complete a total of eight to 10 reps.
The medicine ball has been a favorite tool for athletes for a long time. But, don't confuse it with inflatable exercise balls. The medicine ball is a heavy ball that will surprise you the first time you lift one. It may be the size of a volleyball and weigh almost 20 pounds. It's great for building core strength and stability. Use it for rotational movements. Hold it on your chest to make crunches harder or do a variety of throws to develop upper body power. Always check with your trainer and/or doctor before attempting new exercises, especially when using weights.
Fitter1 Tip: When training over the long term, variety is the key to motivation. Keep both your mind and body energized by rotating cardio training and strength training. Whatever your fitness goals are, concentrating on core stability will help you see better results faster.
Fitter1 Tip: Pilates movements challenge the deeper, often neglected abdominal muscles, enhancing core strength, the foundation for safe, strong movement.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|