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Total Core Strength: What is my core & how can I strengthen this core-tastic pillar of wonder?

By August 14, 2017 No Comments

As featured on myVega.com, written by Jaime Komer

You have a body. Surprise! I guess you didn’t need me to tell you that, yet bare with me here. I’m going somewhere with this, I promise. Let’s continue…You have a body. And your body has a torso of awesomeness. This torso of awesomeness, more officially referred to as your core or powerhouse, needs to be agile, strong, supple, fluid, and sturdy. Wow, apparently we’re quite demanding of this pillar of stability and mobility!

What is the core?

As the core is not a specific muscle, there is some discrepancy on what is included. I like to think of the core as all the muscles and connective tissues that support your spine. Yep, your entire torso area, sans limbs. Together, these muscles allow you stabilize your spine while doing, well, everything. From moving your furniture around to transferring energy while swinging a golf club to extending your back to get up on your surfboard.

Rethinking the power of “crunches”

Culturally, we have placed an exaggerated emphasis on the 6-pack (rectus abdominus) as representing strong abdominal muscles. There’s more to your core than how your abs look! Striving for this image of a fit stomach has fueled the obsession of doing abdominal crunches (also known as abdominal curls, as we curl or crunch our spine into flexion, bringing the upper body towards the lower body). Yet let’s be honest, focusing on strengthening only one area is like building a house with a thick oak door and weak walls made of hay. It just doesn’t make sense. Dr. Spine is the man to listen to when it comes to back health and why ab crunches are not the best option for most folk. Oh, his name isn’t actually Dr. Spine, it’s Stuart McGill.

It’s never just about the core

Your entire body is connected through meticulously woven tissues (fascia), creating a web of influence from your toes to fingers. What you do with the rest of your body while working your core is just as important as the movement itself. I know, like you didn’t have enough to think about already!

AWESOME ALERT: You can find heaps more videos and exercises for your core-tastic core here.

Important: During these exercises, you can discover your very own compensation patterns and where you hold unnecessary tension. The better you understand your own habits, the easier it will be to improve muscular balance and prevent injury.


Exercises to embrace your CORE & improve body awareness

 

 Full Body Crawl

Our body is designed to move dynamically, hence why we need to train dynamically. Exploring new movements in the body can improve your blood circulation, muscular balance, body awareness, strength, and range of motion. Get ready to roll!

Go slow or go home

To best address and recognize your own alignment during movement (which will determine how safely and efficiently you’re moving), these exercises emphasize slow, controlled, and small movements. Notice if anything changes between movements (e.g. breathing pattern, clenching of toes, tucking of pelvis, flaring of ribcage, tensing of jaw, etc.)

By the way, if you find reading exercise instructions to be a bit challenging (you prefer visual instruction), head straight to my YouTube channel.

1. Lil’ Leg Lifts = Lots o’ Work

leg-lift-1

Set Up Lay on back with legs parallel to each other, pelvic-width apart.

  • Pelvis: We’re going to use 3 bony points as markers to help position your pelvis, your ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine—we have one on each side) and your pubic bone. To find your ASIS, place your hands on each side on the top crest of your pelvis, follow the curve of the bone towards the front and downward and you will hit a ridge/slightly bony protrusion. These are your ASIS.
  • Self-Check: Place your palms on your ASIS and fingers reaching towards your pubic bone. You want these 3 bony markers to be level. (If your pelvis is tucked, these points will not be level, as the pubic bone will be lifted higher than your two ASIS.)
  • Your Spine: Envision the natural curves of your spine and try to simulate this while on your back. There will probably be a small gap between your lower back (lumbar spine) and the mat. The back ribs (thoracic spine) will lay on the mat (if you’re a notorious “rib thruster” like myself, the ribs may pop up instead. Yet you can still envision reaching the back ribs towards the ground – without tucking the pelvis).

Movement

  • Upper body stays relaxed. Inhale to prepare.
  • On an exhale:
    1. Solidify your core by creating a tense tube-like sensation around your spine. Your tube should not suck inward. If anything, let it expand outward slightly.
    2. Do a self-check on any compensation patterns–did you tuck your pelvis, curl your shoulders inward, or tense your jaw?
    3. Hover feet 1mm off the ground. Seriously. 1mm. You should be able to feel the texture of your mat–that’s how close you are.
    4. Hold for 1 to 3 breaths. Slowly lower. Repeat until fatigued and your compensation patterns arise. Remember, quality over quantity.

2. Lil’ Leg Lifts + Arm Extensionsleg-lift-arm-lift

  • Follow Set Up and Movement steps in Exercise #1.
  • Once legs are hovering (on an exhale), inhale and glide your arms slowly to the sky.
  • If your spine has maintained its shape (make sure your ribs aren’t flaring outward, thus arching your back), lengthen your arms as far back as comfortable.
  • Exhale lower the arms slowly, followed by lowering your feet. Repeat until fatigued and your compensation patterns arise. Remember, quality over quantity.

3. Lil’ Leg Lifts + Lateral Flexionleg-lifts-lateral-flexion

  • Follow Set Up and Movement steps in Exercise #1
  • Option for arms to remain at sides or create “goal posts.” Be mindful of what happens to your rib cage if you lift your arms into goal posts.
  • Initiating movement from the torso (instead of legs), exhale and hinge lower body to the right. Repeat on left. Make sure that your bottom and ribs do not lift away from ground as you hinge from side to side.
  • Here’s the doozy: keep your feet hovering 1mm above the ground at all times while keeping the legs apart and parallel.
  • Repeat until fatigued and your compensation patterns arise. Remember, quality over quantity (yep, I’m going to keep saying it over and over. Come on, you know you love being a quality kid).
*click here to see the blog post on Vega’s website

Oh hey, what do you know! I’m doing the “best warm up ever” right here in this pic! Yep, it’s pretty much my favorite thing…so fun for young kids, too!

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Great success!