By Jaimi Jansen
Building core strength is important to overall health and function of the body for several reasons. First, working on core strength can improve digestion, as well as prevent injury and enhance balance and stability. Secondly, a strong core also helps your body perform daily tasks, like bending, lifting and twisting effectively and free of injury. To effectively perform the following abdominal exercises, it is important to tighten the transversus abdominis (the muscle that tightens when you cough) and to remember to not overdo it. As you perform these exercises, like all exercises, you want to feel the muscles contract, but not be in pain. If you suffer from back problems, osteoporosis or other health problems you are concerned about, talk to your doctor before attempting these exercises.
One of the easiest exercises for strengthening your core is the plank. There are many variations on this simple movement, such as the straight arm plank, side plank, forearm plank and stir-the-pot plank using a balance ball. All of these variations are simple enough that all fitness levels can do them, and they require little to no equipment, so they can be done anywhere.
An abdominal crunch is a good exercise to build core strength. To effectively perform this exercise, start by lying on the floor (on a yoga mat or a towel to avoid direct contact with the floor), close to a wall. Place your legs on the wall to form a 90 degree angle with your back. Tighten your core muscles and lift your head and shoulders off the ground, as far as it remains comfortable. As you perform this exercise, it is best to perform it with your arms across your chest, as opposed to the classic crunch with your hands behind your head, in order to avoid unnecessary strain on your neck. Hold this position for 3 to 5 deep breaths, then relax and return to your starting position. Repeat this exercise a total of five times; however, if your fitness level allows you to do more than five, you may do as many as you can comfortably.
The bridge is a great way to build core strength and is rather simple. Start by lying on your back with your knees bent, while maintaining a neutral spine. Tighten your core muscles but try to avoid tightening your hips. Next, raise your hips off the floor until they are in alignment with your knees and shoulders, and hold this position for 3 to 5 deep breaths. Then relax and return to the starting position, repeating a total of 5 times. As mentioned earlier, if you feel that you can perform more reps, do so, but be sure to keep track of how many you’re doing so you can track your progress.
Lie on the floor with bent knees while maintaining a neutral spine, shoulders touching whatever surface you are on. Tighten your core muscles and slowly let your knees fall to the right as far as it is comfortable. Hold for 3 to 5 deep breaths and return to the starting position, repeating for the left side. One left and one right rotation equal one segmental rotation, so repeat a total of five times for each side. You may increase the number of segmental rotations in intervals of five.
This is one of the most fun and effective core strengthening exercises out there. Start by lying on your stomach, with a form of support under the hips, such as a small pillow or rolled towel, with another to support the head (optional). Tighten the core muscles and raise the left arm off the ground, hold for 3 deep breaths, lower the arm and repeat with the right arm. Repeat the exercise with the left and right legs, holding the leg for 3 deep breaths each time and remembering to keep your core muscles tight. Once all four limbs have performed the exercise, you have achieved one superman. Repeat a total of 5 times for each limb.
Remember, depending on your fitness level you may perform more, but remember to keep track of your progress.