I posted these exercises in one of my Facebook groups as a weekend abs challenge, quite a few members dismissed them for being too easy. Out of 700 + members, only 1 person posted they completed the exercises and 1 posted they had finally found some ab exercises they may be able to do with their sore neck. That’s a whole whopping 2 people out of 700 members. Of course I completed the exercises as well, so I guess that makes 3.
Needing to get back to the basics is one of the main reasons I posted these exercises. I needed to go back to the basics to re-train my ab muscles after having abdominal surgery a few weeks ago. I also posted these particular exercises, BECAUSE I needed them. I needed to get back to the basics and move through proper movement patters before attempting to move on to more complex exercises. As a triathlete a strong core means faster times and less injuries. Win-win in my opinion.
What is the core? An overly simplified answer to that is what is left when you remove the legs, arms and neck. That’s the core. The rectangle in the middle of your body. When I was younger, I believed core was abs. Crunches was all I needed to do. Then, as I perused my training as a personal trainer, I realized core was the abdominal, the obliques and your erector spinae muscles. But it really is more then that. It also encompasses your pelvic floor and your diaphragm. All 4 sides of the 3D box. Again, I realize that this is an overly simplified explanation. When physiotherapist assess core stability, these are 6 relevant anatomy pieces they look at.
Robertson Training system has done a great job illustrating the stability progression. Starting from supine and prone positions where your core is the most stable. Very small movements occur and most of your body is on the ground or a stable surface. This is the safest of all positions. Next comes the quadruped exercises. This actually means on all 4’s. It’s the second most stable position and you have 2 to 4 points of contact to the group. The third progression is half kneeling. Less stable then the quadruped. Once you have mastered the half kneeling, move onto the full or tall kneeling. Only when you can safely complete most of the exercises in this position should you move to the vertical position.
Let’s start with the basic exercises that I posted in the Facebook group. The Supine (on your back) /Prone (on your stomach) exercises and some simple breathing exercises as well.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, is breathing that is done by contracting the diaphragm, a muscle located horizontally between the thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity. according to Wikipedia. Lie on your back with your knees bent, place you hands on your belly. Inhale and your belly rises, exhale and your belly falls. It’s that simple. Now give it a try. See what happens.
Pelvic tilt is the next exercise I recommend athletes try. I spent a lot of time on this while in rehab after my back surgery. While it looks easy, it’s important to engage your pelvic floor muscles and not power though with the larger muscles. Lie on your back with your knees bent, the same as the last exercise. Using your pelvic floor muscles, decrease the gap behind your lower back. Holdfor a count of 10, then release and repeat.
Dead bug. That name sounds funny I know, but once you try exercise, you realize that the name accurately describes the exercise. Start on your back, lift your legs off the floor in a bent knee position and lift your arms up in the air. Start small by moving one limb at a time very slowly out (away from the center) and come back to neutral. Once you are comfortable with the small movements and your “core” is engaged and working, then progress the movements, again, one limb at a time until you can fully extend your legs and arms. Once you have mastered one limb at a time, then challenge yourself to opposite arm opposite leg. Be sure to keep your core stable, and not let it rock from side to side as you do these exercises. If you are doing this exercise correctly with proper core engagement, you should FEEL this one.
The next exercise is marching. Sounds easy enough right? It builds on the last exercise. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor. Alternate lifting your feet off the ground. It’s exactly what it sounds like, marching on the spot, but while lying on your back. This allows the muscles that should be doing to the work to engage without engaging the accessory muscles that sometimes take over. Think of it as riding a bike with training wheels.
Bridging. This is one of my favorite exercises of all time, I spent a lot of time doing while in physiotherapy for 2 years. Now let’s be honest, until I had muscles strong enough to complete the movement properly, I really didn’t like that exercise at all. Funny how I didn’t like it then, but now I love it. It’s also an exercise that I have my personal training clients do, especially after knee and hip replacement or hip fractures. It’s a great all around exercise that has functional carry over. Have you ever tried pulling up your pants in bed? How about getting on a bed pan? Now there are as many variations or progressions of the bridge as there are types of smart phones. The basic premise is the same. Again, start slow and progress as you get stronger. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor with your arms relaxed at your side. Lift your glutes off the bed by pushing your heels into the floor. If you could only lift your glutes 1/2 inch off the floor, great. That’s your starting point. Hold for a count of 5-10, then lower. Once you can lift to the top of the movement, where you create a straight line from your shoulders to your knees, you can then move on from the basic bridge. Some of the most common variations are lifting your arms up in the air, lifting one leg off the ground or placing your feet on an unstable object. Bridging progressions will certainly be another blog post.
All of the exercises above are all done in supine position, meaning you are on your back. Now it’s time to flip over in to prone position, on your stomach. Superman or as I like to call it, Superwoman is the last excise for today.
Just like the bridging exercises, there are many variations and progressions of this exercise.
Start at the beginning with your legs straight and your bent with your hands under your forehead. Lift your head/chin off the ground, hold and lower. Be sure to keep your eyes looking down. The movement happens from your back and not your neck. Once you can do that without issues, lift one leg off the ground, hold for a count of 5-10, then lower. Repeat.
Then, straighten your arms in front of you and try lifting one arm/hand off the ground, hold, then lower. It’s important to maintain stability. The only thing moving is your arm. Once you have mastered that, you can lift opposite arm, opposite leg, then same arm same leg. The last progression would be both arms, both legs.
Now that you have read about all these exercises, give it a try. If you are strong enough, you may have to do theses exercises once or twice, then move on to the second progression. The quadruped exercises, which will be next weeks blog post.