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5 Tips For A Healthier, Stronger Core

5 Tips For A Healthier, Stronger Core
By Yuri Elkaim

Core training has become the new “buzz” word over the last few
years as more and more people have begun to realize its role in
posture, spinal health, performance and overall aesthetics. What
is less commonly known is that the core is anatomically defined
as the region between the shoulders and knees, not simply the
midsection. Most people view the core as simply being their
abdominal muscles and, as such, miss out on a tremendous amount
of value that other functional movements provide.

When I refer to the core I allude to the inner and outer units
of our body. The inner unit consists of smaller, more static
stabilizing muscles such as the transverse abdominis,
multifidus, and the pelvic floor and diaphragmatic musculature.
The outer unit is comprised of larger phasic (or dynamic)
muscles that generate movement such as the gluteals, latissimus
dorsi, erector spinae group, biceps femoris, and peroneals.
Aside from generating movement, these muscles work
synergistically to provide much needed pelvic stability during
motions such as walking, running, and so forth. Because all
functional movements such as lunges, squats, step-ups, most
stability ball movements, and many others revolve around the
pelvis, they will offer tremendous core training effects when
done with proper technique. The following are 5 tips you can use
to train the inner and outer units of your core with maximal
efficiency.

TIP #1 – Brace your abdominals

This is the first thing you should be aware of during any and
every movement that you will ever perform. Abdominal bracing
consists of three parts. First, draw in your belly button as if
you were to put on a tight pair of pants. This will activate
your transverse abdominis, the body’s waist belt muscle. Second,
raise your pelvic floor by performing a kegel (contracting the
pelvic floor muscles up as if you holding in a full bladder).
This helps to increase intra-abdominal pressure which will aid
in spinal stabilization. Third, lightly create tension in your
abdominal muscles as if you were about to get punched in the
stomach. This activates the internal and external oblique
muscles. By performing all three of these actions you will
ensure that your spine is well protected through all movements.
Abdominal bracing should be initiated before and maintained
through each and every exercise. With repetition, these muscles
will remember their roles and tend to maintain a tighter
constricted waistline, even without you being aware.

Exercise: Belly tucks

Lie face down on the floor with your forehead rested on the
back of your hands. Inhale, pushing your belly button into the
floor (“ballooning” your abdomen). Hold for 3 seconds. Exhale,
drawing your belly button towards the ceiling (as if being
pulled by a string), raise pelvic floor, and tighten your
abdominal muscles. Hold for 3 seconds. Repeat 10 times.

TIP #2 – Maintain a neutral spine

A neutral spine is attained when your spine is kept in its
natural alignment. This is best achieved by ensuring that your
back is flat (with slight lumbar lordosis) during all movements,
especially lifting. This, in conjunction with abdominal bracing,
is essential to better support the spine during all movements.
Let us take the example of picking up a heavier box from the
floor. The last thing you want to do in the situation is reach
down without bending knees and picking up the box…this is a sure
way to throw your back out. What is instructed to do in such a
case would be to squat down keeping your torso tall (ie. neutral
spine), with your abdominals braced, and lift through your legs
as opposed to extending up through your torso. If these lifting
mechanics are not met, you place you spine at a greater risk of
disc herniation, especially if the load is heavier.

Exercise: Cat/Camel motions

In a four point stance (hands and knees) take your spine
through a series of cat and camel stretches. Meaning that you
round out the back like a camel and then arch it out like a cat.
Repeat 6 times. Once you have completed the 6 repetitions simply
allow your back (spine) to relax. Wherever it feels most relaxed
is your neutral spine!

TIP #3 – Incorporate unilateral lifting

Unilateral refers to the concept of carrying (or pushing) a
load on only side of the body. For instance, walking to work
holding your brief case in one hand. By doing so, the body
automatically activates its contralateral (opposite) side to
stabilize the torso and maintain good posture. Studies have
shown that this type of lifting stimulates much greater core
muscle activation compared to bilateral lifting (equal load on
both sides).

Exercise: Unilateral Lunge Walks

Perform your lunge walks while holding a weight, equivalent to
10% of your body weight, in one hand. Perform 10 reps with the
weight in one hand, and then switch. The key is to focus on
keeping your torso upright and minimizing and lateral swaying.

TIP # 4 – Use a Stability Ball

Incorporating a stability ball into your workouts will make
such a difference in your core strength and spinal health.
Working on the stability ball offers several benefits such as
increased balance, range of motion, co-ordination, and muscle
activation. Simply by sitting on the ball, your core muscles
fire to a much greater degree in order to stabilize your body.
Any unstable surface for that matter will foster much greater
core muscle activation as your body is constantly readjusting
itself to maintain proper posture. This type of body awareness
is known as proprioception, and is immensely beneficial for
athletes of all endeavors, and even for people who want more
balance while standing in the subway. Incorporate the
aforementioned unilateral lifting and you get twice the benefit!
Exercise:

Exercise: Stability Ball 1-Arm DB Chest Press

Position your body on the ball so that only the shoulders, neck
and head are resting on it. With the feet shoulder width apart
raise your hips so that your body is in one straight line
(essentially forming a bench within your body). Squeeze your
buttocks together as if holding a $1,000 bill between them.
Next, with a DB in one arm, push it up and towards your body’s
midline as if creating an arc like motion. Repeat 12 times and
then switch arms. Ensure to keep your body and then ball as
still as possible. Notice the muscle activation in the posterior
side of the body especially in the glutes and lower back!

TIP #5 – Incorporate multi-planar movements

Our bodies rarely operate in one single plane (ie. front to
back, side to side). Often, our movements require us to move
through several different planes such as when walking and
looking back over your shoulder. It is important to remember
that all movement stems from the core, especially rotation based
movements. As such, it is important to strengthen those core
muscles accordingly to ensure movement efficiency and injury
prevention. Did you know that 80% of our core musculature
inserts on a diagonal. This means that our bodies are
anatomically constructed for such multi-planar movements
involving diagonal and rotational movements. Examples are
throwing, kicking, and swinging a tennis racquet or golf club.
I’ve seen clients improve their golf drive by 30 yards by simply
incorporating these multi-planar movements into their routines.

Exercise: Cable chop (from knees)

Position yourself in the middle of the cable crossover machine.
Face your body at a right angle from the cables. Starting from
your knees, keeping your body upright and strong, reach over and
across your body grabbing the handle (with both hands) on the
highest setting. Keeping both arms straight “chop” the cable
across your body from above your starting shoulder to the
opposite hip. Return slowly and repeat 8 times on each side. Be
sure to drive the movement from your obliques and not your arms.

By incorporating these 5 core essentials, you can look forward
to having firmer, stronger and more performant core muscles. Not
only that but you will also be more efficient and stable in all
your movements. And, if you participate in regular sporting
activities you will have an added edge over your untrained
counterparts.

Written by Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK. Do not reprint without
permission. Copyright 2006 © Total Wellness Consulting.

About the Author: Yuri is the owner of Total Wellness
Consulting and creator of the only 12 week body shaping fitness
program designed for Ipod/Mp3 players. Please visit
http://www.myFitterU.com for more info.

Source: http://www.isnare.com

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