Contrary to popular belief, your core is much more than just your “abs”, and to strengthen it, you need to do a lot more than crunches and a few planks. The term “core” refers to a complex series of muscles extending far beyond the abdominals, and keeping it strong will do more than get you a six-pack. Check out our blog here, where we delve deep into the importance of core strength and explain how to properly engage the core (key to understand before attempting the exercises below!)
If you’re in the gym, grab a plate – 2.5kg or 5kg will be plenty heavy enough. Start by lying straight on your back, holding the plate above your head with both hands. Keep your elbows tucked in and engage your core fully. Keeping your feet together, bend your knees in towards your chest as you bring the weight up towards your knees, lifting your head, shoulders and torso off the floor.
When your shins are parallel to the ground, carefully place the plate on them, and lower your body back down until your legs are hovering close to the floor. Stop if you feel that your lower back arches off the floor – just go as far as you can, keeping your core tight throughout. This time when you come back up, grab the plate and extend it behind your head as you come back down.
You don’t need a plate for this – if you’re doing it at home, get creative and use what you have as a weight. A hefty Encyclopaedia will do the trick if you have one.
Once you’ve mastered the classic plank position, add punches to introduce some instability that will further challenge your core. To perform this exercise, start in a forearm plank position. Your feet should be about hip- to shoulder-width apart, with your elbows under your shoulders.
Once you’ve engaged your core, bracing your abs and engaging your quads and glutes, bring one hand out directly in front of you, keeping your hand at about shoulder height and taking care to stabilise your hips, not letting them dip from side to side. Fully extend your arm, then bring back into a plank position and repeat with the other arm. Keep alternating punches at a controlled pace and keep the core engaged to stop yourself from moving from side to side.
This is popular in Animal Flow, a fitness programme that is based on ground-based exercises and movements that encourages multi-plane, fluid motions to enhance mobility, flexibility and stability.
To perform a crab reach, start by sitting down with your feet and knees hip-width apart and your hands slightly behind you, shoulder-width apart. Palms and feet should be flat on the ground, with fingers pointed in the opposite direction of the toes. Try to make your body resemble an “M” from the side. Lift the hips about an inch off the ground – you are now in a static crab position. To perform the reach, lift your hips high off the ground, forming a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. At the same time, reach your right arm over your left shoulder, twisting your torso to face the left side of the room. Alternate sides.
Start off in a high plank position, planting the hands under the shoulders slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Plant the toes firmly into the ground, engaging your core and squeezing your glutes to stabilise the body. Keep the neck and head in a neutral position by looking just beyond the hands. Take care not to compromise the lower back by letting it collapse. Keep envisioning your belly button pulling in towards your spine.
Bring your right knee up to the middle of your chest, then bring it across to towards your left elbow. Return to centre, put your leg back into the starting position then repeat on the other side and keep going.
Start on your side with your feet together, balancing on the side of your foot, not the sole. Contract your core and raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from head to foot. Keep the body rigid by bracing your core. Once you’re in a stable position, bend the top leg and tuck it towards your chest.
This is one to try once you’ve mastered the standard side plank hold. Like the plank punches, the idea is that the instability introduced to the movement challenges your core much more deeply.
As well as the above exercises, rowing is an amazing way to build up serious core strength. It’s a common misconception that rowing primarily works the arms, but actually that is the part of your body that works the least! The rowing stroke primarily relies on power from the legs, followed by the core, with the arms bringing up the rear. Throughout the rowing stroke, you need to keep your core braced to ensure your back is straight, so these muscles get an amazing workout. If you join us for TRAIN classes regularly at Grow, you’ll definitely see an improvement in your core strength, which in turn will help you to improve your rowing technique.