As Memorial Day passes, the unofficial start to summer is upon us! Headlines on every magazine are flashing beach-ready abs.

Strong core muscles are not just nice to have for summer, though, but are essential for every day. Core muscles give you the balance to reach a tall shelf or bend down and tie your shoes.

They can also give you the performance to swing a golf club or tennis racket, the stability and balance to kayak and hike, and help runners with endurance.

Strong core muscles can also improve your posture, help to protect your back, and reduce pain. From lifting groceries to your grandchildren, a strong core is a must for everyday performance.

Protecting Your Spine with Core Exercises

It’s important to protect our spine when we perform exercises for our abs. The “go-to” exercises of the past for abs was sit-ups or crunches; however, performing these exercises puts a lot of pressure on the spine with the repetitive flexion motion.

Sit-ups and crunches mainly work one portion of the abdominals, the rectus abdominis and hip flexors, and can also put a lot of strain on your neck if not performed correctly.

If you are at risk for osteoporosis, it is important to limit flexing and twisting of the spine, especially when lifting excessive weight. A strong core and controlled movement are critical to protect your spine if these motions are going to be performed.

The Basics of a Strong Core

Before diving into exercise, it’s important to activate the core muscles properly. The transverse abdominis is the deepest of these muscles and acts as a support belt or girdle around our midsection.

Before beginning your core exercises, pull your abdominal muscles in to contract the transverse abdominis. You can practice engaging this muscle by saying “HA!” or with a loud cough.

I often tell my clients to pretend they are protecting themselves from a punch to the tummy. This will allow you to feel the transverse abdominis muscle engage and practice keeping the muscle engaged while performing more challenging exercises.

4 Everyday Core Exercises

Bridge

  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Tuck your tummy muscles in and squeeze your tush.
  3. Lift your hips off the floor. Hold for 5 seconds. Do 5-15 reps, 2-3 sets.

Wood Chop

  1. The wood chop exercise can be performed in ½ kneeling position with one leg up and one leg down or in a standing position. Start without a weight and progress as you get stronger.
  2. Reach your hands down at one corner, squatting with your hips if standing.
  3. Draw a diagonal with your hands across your body to the opposite top corner.
  4. Keep your abdominals engaged and don’t arch your back. Control the motion as you come back down.
  5. Perform 8-15 reps, 2-3 sets.

Bird Dog

  1. Start on an exercise mat on your hands and knees with your hips directly over your knees and your shoulders over your wrists.
  2. Tuck your tummy muscles in and keep your back and hips flat. Do not twist as you extend one leg backwards and the opposite arm forwards.
  3. Do not arch your back and control the motion as you come back in.
  4. Hold for 5 seconds, do 8-15 reps each side, 2-3 sets. You can start with only using an arm extended or only using a leg extended if opposite arm and leg is too difficult.

Plank

  1. Tuck your tummy muscles in and come up onto your toes and elbows.
  2. Be sure your body is in a straight line with your hips in line with your body.
  3. Keep breathing as you hold this position. Start with 10 seconds and progress towards holding for 60 seconds.

You might not have realized some of the exercises you are already performing can engage your abdominals. Try performing free weight exercises using weights with only one side at a time. The weight will require your core to engage to keep your posture upright.

Other exercises, like squats, lunges, deadlifts, and even running, can activate the core muscles without targeting them specifically. Sticking to these exercises will help you to build a strong core. From balance and strength to poised posture, strong core muscles are essential for everyday!

What core exercises do you do every day? Do you engage in activities that mimic core exercises? What home chores do you think would be a great way to strengthen your core? Please join the conversation and share your experiences!

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