So you want a stronger core. Who doesn’t? But what does that mean to you? In my experience, the majority of people who are trying to strengthen their cores focus solely on exercises that target their rectus abdominis muscle, commonly called the abdominals or abs. Think sit-ups:
Or the back extensor known as erector spinae. Think supermans:
Don’t get me wrong. If your core workouts include exercises that target all four of these muscles, that’s great, but that’s only half the battle. The rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and erector spinae make up the outer layer of your core.
They are the big muscles responsible for spinal movements like bending forward and back or bending or twisting to the side. However, there is also a group of four deep stabilizing muscles that make up the inner layer of your core. They are the muscles of the pelvic floor, diaphragm, multifidus, and transverse abdominis, also known as the transversus abdominis.
They are mainly small muscles that are responsible for spinal and pelvic stability. Basically, they are the muscles that help prevent lower back injuries. If your inner core muscles are weak, your outer core muscles try to do all the work moving and controlling your spine. Ideally, you want both muscle groups working in tandem, with your inner core muscles stabilizing your spine and your outer core muscles moving your spine. This requires strength in both.
One great place to start is by focusing on the biggest and most powerful of the inner core muscles, the transverse abdominis. It looks almost like a girdle stretching the length of your stomach, wrapping around your sides, and attaching in the back.
Here are four of my favorite exercises that strengthen this muscle:
- Lie, sit, kneel, or stand
- With an exhale, pull your navel (belly button) into your spine and hold for a count of five to ten seconds, continuing with even breaths throughout the hold
- Repeat five times
- Lie on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees and your feet in the air
- Raise both arms up so they are perpendicular to the floor with your palms facing each other or toward your feet
- Pull in your navel so your core is stable
- Slowly lower your right leg and your left arm so they are parallel to the floor
- With control, bring yourself back to starting position and switch sides now lowering your left leg and right arm
- Return to your starting position
- Repeat five to ten times
- Lie on your back with your legs out straight on the floor
- Place your hands beneath your glutes to help support your pelvis and lower back
- If you can, lift your head and keep it lifted throughout the exercise (if there is any neck strain or discomfort, keep your head on the floor)
- Lift one of your legs slightly off the floor
- Pull in your navel and lift your other leg
- Keeping your navel tight, alternate quickly kicking each leg up and down like you are swimming for a count of ten
- Repeat three times
- Lie face down
- Pull your legs and feet together and then flex your feet toward your shins so the tips of your toes are touching the ground
- Place your elbows directly below your shoulders, with your forearms on the ground in front of you
- With your toes together on the floor, squeeze your glutes and pull in your navel to lift your body off the ground
- Make sure your elbows are still directly under your shoulders and your spine is vertical to the floor
- Hold for 20 to 60 seconds
- Repeat three times
Following a core workout that includes exercises for both outer and inner core muscles is the best way to not only look and feel more fit, but also keep your lower back injury-free. Incorporating these four exercises into your routine will make a big difference. Not only will you feel more stable, but you will have better posture and a leaner waist.
Talk about “all the right core in all the right places”!