Whether you’re hitting a tennis ball, getting out of the car, carrying groceries, or running after your grandchildren, all those movements originate from your core. The core is the central link between your upper and lower body, but it isn’t just your abdominal muscles. It’s also your lower- and mid-back muscles, and those in the hips, pelvis and glutes.
The benefits of having a strong core can’t be overstated: you’ll be able to play golf without injuring yourself, maintain excellent posture, prevent injuries and falls, relieve back pain – oh, and sport a lean midsection! Research shows that older adults with strong core muscles have better balance and functional performance, and are at lower risk for falls. If you have weaker core muscles, try these three core strengthening exercises:
The plank is one of the most well-known core strengthening exercises, and for good reason. It works your abdominals, lower back and glute muscles. I make this move even more effective by adding a little something extra you may not have tried before.
Lie on your front on the floor. Place your forearms on the ground, with elbows directly under your shoulders. Place your feet hip-width apart with your toes tucked. Lift your body off the floor. Contract your glute and ab muscles, and get your lower back as flat as possible. Make sure your head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles create one straight line.
Now, here’s the fun part: pull your elbows toward your toes as hard as you can. Your arms won’t actually move, but you should feel your upper body muscles contracting, and your abs doing additional work. Squeeze your glutes and quads as well, and hold this position.
My over-55 clients, who are just starting out in fitness, usually find it challenging enough to hold this plank for 20-30 seconds. More advanced trainees hold the position for up to a minute. If you’re contracting your muscles correctly, 60 seconds should be very challenging.
2. Alternate Leg Lowering
This core strengthening exercise helps correct any imbalances between your left and right sides, and involves the muscles of the hip. This move can also help if your hamstrings feel tight.
Start by lying on the floor with arms by your sides and legs up toward the ceiling. Use your core muscles to press your lower back into the floor, with as much pressure as possible. Exhale, and take 2 to 3 seconds to lower your left leg toward the floor, while keeping your lower back in contact with the floor, and your left leg rigid.
If this feels too difficult, hold a belt, strap or resistance band around the foot of the leg that remains stable. Start with 5-7 repetitions per leg, progressing to 3 sets of 10 repetitions per leg as you increase your core strength.
3. Dead Bug
Once you’re comfortable with the alternate leg lowering exercise, give this a try. Start in the same position as the leg lowering exercise, but bend your knees to 90 degrees, and reach your arms to the ceiling (like a bug lying on its back).
Keeping your lower back pressed into the floor, exhale and slowly lower your right leg toward the floor while reaching overhead with your left arm. Exhale completely, then return to the start position and repeat on the opposite side. Start with 10 total repetitions (5 on each side), working your way up to 20 total (10 on each side).
For all of these exercises, it’s important to brace your core muscles. Do this by imagining you’re about to get punched in the stomach. (This is more effective than the now-outdated “draw your belly button to your spine” cue.)
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