Whatever your fitness goals may be, having a strong core is key to reaching your full potential and making the most of your workouts. Your core muscles act as a brace to protect your spine and serve as a centralized connection point for your upper and lower extremities. Having a strong core helps to prevent injury, improves posture and enhances overall body conditioning. Victoria Moran, physical therapist, offers the following building blocks to strengthen your core and achieve optimal performance:
1. Posture. Start with the ABC’s of good postural alignment and a neutral spine:
Abdominals: keep your abdominals pulled up and in
Buttocks: keep your buttocks lifted, not tucked under
Chest: keep your chest lifted
2. Breathing. For good core strength, you want to breathe from your diaphragm, the sheet of muscle that extends across the bottom of the rib cage. You can practice diaphragmatic breathing by placing your hands on your belly and breathing into your hands, expanding the abdominals and ribs.
3. Activation. Putting the first two together, activate your core muscles by pulling the abdominals up and breathing from your diaphragm, all while maintaining good postural alignment.
4. Control. Once you’re able to activate your core, you can challenge yourself and practice core control by adding arm and leg movements. Make sure that you are able to maintain a neutral spine while completing your exercises.
5. Progressing. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can add more challenging core exercises like planks, side planks, diagonal rotations with a medicine ball, lunges, etc. It’s not a cookbook recipe–each exercise should be based on your individual needs, activity level and any underlying issues or injuries.You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Good form and proper positioning are essential. If you aren’t sure where to start, a qualified fitness professional, such as a clinical exercise physiologists at the HSS Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center, can build a fitness program especially for you and show you how to maintain proper body mechanics.