Siobhan Byrne: Building a stronger core
Core muscles work as stabilisers for the entire body, says our fitness expert
In this second week of getting back to basics, it is all about the core.
The word 'core' has been one of the buzzwords in the fitness industry for years, but what exactly is it and why is it important?
I like to think of the core muscles being the foundation to what everything else is built on. Think of it in terms of a house: if the foundations are weak, you will have problems with the rest of the house.
The same can be said about the core: if it is weak, how can we expect the other muscles to be strong and perform at their best?
Core muscles are actually the building blocks to a strong body. Contrary to popular belief, your core is not just your ab muscles, it also includes the rectus and transverse abdominal, the internal and external obliques, and the muscles in your back, pelvic floor and hips. The core even extends into the diaphragm, neck and further.
You may not feel that core strength is relevant, but whether you are a cyclist, triathlete, swimmer, gym-goer or a stay-at-home parent, if your core is weak you will not be using your body efficiently and will run the risk of injuries.
The core plays a major factor in our balance but you must first learn to engage your core. Take the basic core exercise - the plank. Lie on your front, on elbows and toes, keeping your body flat and holding the position while sucking in the tummy. The purpose of this exercise is to get every muscle in the core working. Depending on your level of core strength you may be able to hold this position for 20 seconds to up to a minute, or even longer.
Are core exercises more effective than crunches? I believe they are. Take any exercise that destabilises the body and add it to your workout. Even crunches on a stability ball or BOSU ball, where the body not only uses the abdominals to perform the crunch, but also the core is used to balance the body, are beneficial.
Adding core work to your routine does not necessarily mean an extra few minutes at the end. It can either be added to your workout as a rest period or incorporate into exercises for other body parts that also use your core.
The core muscles work as stabilisers for the entire body. Core training is simply doing specific exercises to develop and strengthen these stabiliser muscles.
If any of these core muscles are weak (which is very common in people with desk jobs or who sit for long periods), it could result in lower back pain.
Keeping these core muscles strong improves your posture and helps give you more strength in other exercises like running, walking, specific movements like push-ups, or overhead movements and everyday movements like bending, reaching and twisting.
There are many effective core exercises to choose from depending on ability and strength. To get you started here are some of my go-to core exercises for beginners.
Back to basics: Part 2
Hold for 20 seconds, building up longer as you get stronger
Start face down on a mat with your legs straight and arms tucked in by your sides, with elbows bent. Then raise your body up onto your toes and forearms and hold while keeping your back straight throughout.
Complete for 20 seconds
1/ Start on your toes and hands with your arms straight, back flat and your feet together.
2/ Then jump your feet out to the sides without moving hand position. Immediately jump back to the middle and repeat. Keep your back flat throughout.
1/ Lie face down on the floor with your legs straight and your arms stretched out overhead.
2/ Raise the upper body and legs together, about 15 inches off the floor, hold briefly and then return to start position by lowering yourself back to the floor.
Complete for 20 seconds
1/ Start with both feet on the floor and two hands on the ground. Make sure your back is flat with your core engaged.
2/ Slowly bring one knee up to the chest and then return back to start position.
3/ Repeat with opposite leg. This is one rep.
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