There is a lot of talk in the fitness industry about “core”. This term is thrown around by a lot of people who really don’t know what a person's core actually is. Let it be known that your core is the trunk of your body. It is everything except your limbs, neck, and head. The core is several functional groups of muscles all playing integral roles in proper movement and coordination.
People often say that they have a “weak" core or that they have “no" core, but, typically, the biggest problem is a lack of core coordination and poor muscle balance. The most commonly underused, thus underdeveloped, core muscle is the transverse abdominus. This muscle is very important in hip and pelvic stability. It lies in the “lower abdominal” region and, therefore, can be overpowered by the hip flexors quite easily. Hip flexors are very seldom weak because they are used in many activities and are shortened while we are sitting which we love to do!
This muscle imbalance can be a major problem because we constantly reinforce it by sitting and then we think we need a “strong core” and so we do sit-ups which is primarily a hip flexor-driven movement. This hip flexor over-activity and tightness combined with abdominal weakness is often one of the root causes of lower back pain.
Anyone, from a first timer to an avid exerciser, should integrate primary static core contraction exercises into his or her routine. Static simply means not moving. Planking is a good example of a static core exercise.
The other side of this coin, literally, is glute weakness. While our seated lifestyle is shortening the hip flexors, the glutes are getting longer and weaker. This adds to our muscle imbalance and decreases our overall core function.
There are many progressions, many ways, to fix this imbalance, but to get things started, here is a list of very basic exercises and stretches to start the rebalancing process. These can be done by anyone with no equipment in almost any setting.
It should be noted that you should not start an exercise routine without the proper guidance of a health care professional and, if you are suffering from a lower back injury, it is important that you have a proper diagnosis and exercise prescription before entering into any rehabilitation program.
Basic Core Engagement Stage 1
- While laying on your back, slowly contract your lower abdominal muscles.
- While doing this, try and flatten your lower back on the ground by tilting your pelvis.
- Make sure that you are breathing the whole time!
Butt winks (glute contractions)
- In a seated position with your knees and feet together, slowly and evenly contract your glutes.
- Hold this contraction for 2 seconds and then repeat 12 times.
- Laying on your side in the fetal position, slowly rotate your top leg laterally . Repeat this 12 times per leg.
- On you hands and knees, slowly extend one leg to full extension and then back to its resting position.
- You should be actively contracting your core as you go through this motion and watching that your hips don’t rotate and that your back does not arch.
Laying Hamstring Stretch
Hip Flexor Lunge
* All stretches should be performed 2 times per day and held for 30-60 seconds each time.