Caitlin Reid shows you simple exercises that can be done at home to build your core strength and help avoid lower back pain, improve posture and increase flexibility.
Our core muscles provide us with stability, balance and flexibility. We rely on them to get us out of bed in the morning, get us dressed and get us through the working day. They keep our lower backs strong, reducing the likelihood and severity of lower back pain. In fact, our core muscles form the basis for most of our movements.
But a lack of exercise, combined with extended hours sitting in a car or at a desk, can de-condition these vital muscles, increasing our susceptibility to injury. Luckily, reducing the risk of injury can be as simple as doing a few simple exercises, aimed at improving your core stability.
What is core stability?
Core stability is defined as the capability of your torso muscles to stabilise your lower spine during movement. There are eight different torso muscles: rectus abdominus, transversus abdominus (TA), external and internal obliques, erector spinae, multifidus, quadratus lumborum and latissimus dorsi. When the muscles in your torso are all activated together, your lower back is stabilised, which is maintained even when you perform movements such as walking.
Stabilising your spine
Before starting core-strengthening exercises, you should learn how to stabilise your spine. There are two ways to do this: abdominal hollowing and abdominal bracing.
Hollowing is a technique where you draw in your stomach, isolating the transversus abdominus (your deepest ab muscle), while relaxing the rest of your core muscles. The more effective method, however, is bracing, which activates all muscles surrounding the spine.
To brace, think of how you would react if someone was about to punch you in the stomach. You would ‘brace’ for the punch – not push out or draw in. This stabilises the spine. You’ll feel pressure taken off your spine if doing it properly.
Going for a walk? Keep your core strong
To stabilise your spine, protect your lower back and improve your posture, try bracing while you walk.
Four core-strengthening exercises
To build core strength, practise bracing your abdominals every day and do these exercises every other day.
1. Floor bridge
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on floor. Place palms face down by your side. Form an abdominal brace, squeeze buttocks, slowly raise pelvis off floor into bridge position. Keep your shoulder blades on the floor. Hold and then lower. Repeat 12–15 times.
2. Alternate arm and leg raise
Start on hands and knees, keeping back straight. Bracing your abs, slowly extend one leg behind while extending your opposite arm out in front until both are parallel with the floor. Keep your torso square and stable. Repeat 12–15 times each side.
3. One-legged squat
Stand on right leg, with left leg bent up at a right angle. Brace abdominals and perform a half-squat by slowly lowering yourself towards the ground with your right leg. Maintain good posture and lift back up when you have reached halfway. Repeat 12–15 times both sides.
Start on hands and knees, keeping your back straight. Brace your abs, lower onto your elbows and toes, keeping both shoulder-width apart. Keeping a straight line through the knee, hip and shoulder; hold for 30–45 seconds.