Although many people focus on their core muscles in pursuit of 6-pack abdominals (abs), core strength is an important component of day-to-day function as well as athletic performance. A strong core is essential for good balance and good balance plays an essential role in a variety of simple and complex movements. So, whether you’re looking to help your client prevent falls or improve your athlete’s performance, core exercises are the key!
Follow along as we explore the major muscles of the core and five of our favorite core strengthening exercises that can help improve balance.
Contrary to what many people think, the core is more than just the abdominal muscles. The core is a collection of several muscles between the ribs and the pelvis on the anterior (front), posterior (back), and sides of the body. The five major muscles of the core are the:
Internal and external obliques
These muscles, along with a few others, work together to keep the body upright, stabilize the spine, and transfer force between the upper and lower body.
Adding intentional core strengthening exercises to your client’s workout can help improve their balance and support better function throughout the day. Core exercises are easy to add to a workout because many can be done with little or no equipment. Add these five exercises for better balance, muscle strength, and overall fitness.
This exercise can be done with or without a medicine ball. If a client performs this exercise without a medicine ball, they will clasp their hands and extend their arms out in front of their body.
How to do it: The client will begin holding the medicine ball (or clasped hands) straight out in front of the body. They will take a step forward with their right foot and lower into a lunge, keeping the right knee above the right ankle. As the client raises back up to a standing position, they will rotate their core and the medicine ball toward their left leg, keeping their arms parallel to the ground. While the core is rotating to the left, the left foot will lift off the ground. The client will rotate their core back to center (with arms out straight) while the left foot moves forward into a lunge. As the client raises back up, they will rotate the core and medicine ball to the right leg and continue alternating for the remainder of the set.
The forearm plank is a great core exercise when done correctly. But, keep in mind, there are many different variations to the plank - all of them valuable in challenging the core and ultimately helping your clients improve their balance.
How to do it: The client should begin on all fours. They will move into the plank position by transferring the weight of their upper body onto their forearms keeping the elbows under the shoulders and head and neck in alignment with the spine. They will extend both legs behind them and transfer the weight of their lower body into their toes as they lift their knees off the floor. With an engaged core, hips raised, and neck in alignment with the spine (body should be in a straight line), the client will hold this position for 20-60 seconds.
This is a bit more of an advanced move. If a stability ball is not available, the exercise can be done using sliders or a suspension trainer.
How to do it: The client will begin in the pushup position and balance their feet on top of the stability ball (some clients may need help getting into this position). With the wrists directly under the shoulders and the head, hips, and feet aligned, the client will bring their knees forward toward their chest. The stability ball will roll forward with their toes on top. The majority of the work should come from the lower abs pulling the pelvis forward and tucking it under as the knees come toward the chest. The client will extend their legs out behind them (back into the starting position) and continue the rest of their reps.
The superman exercise is a great way to build core strength on the posterior side of the body.
How to do it: The client will lay face down with their arms and legs extended. With the head, neck, and spine in alignment, the client will slowly raise the right arm and simultaneously lift the left leg toward the ceiling (keeping the leg straight). They will squeeze and hold for a few seconds and slowly lower back to the starting position. The client will continue alternating opposite legs and arms for the remainder of the reps. When they have mastered this, they can progress to lifting both arms and both legs at the same time.
The bird dog exercise is a solid core training exercise for trunk stability. You may want to consider doing this exercise on a mat to help protect the knees.
How to do it: The client will begin on all fours. Wrists should be under the shoulders and the head, neck, and spine should all be in alignment. The client will slowly raise their left arm, with their thumb pointed toward the ceiling, while simultaneously extending their right leg behind them. The core should be engaged, hips square, and the back flat throughout the movement. The entire movement should be slow and controlled. Once the arm and leg are parallel to the floor, the client will slowly lower them back to the starting position and alternate sides of the body for the remainder of their reps.
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