Where Movement is BornBy: Deborah Liv Johnson
Home to our abdominals, lower back, latissimus dorsi (lats) and obliques, our core — or torso — is at the center of almost every move we make. We use our core to sit down, stand up, to get out of bed, to get in and out of a car, to bend over, to lift, to balance and for so much more.
Ball or chair exercises for core strength
To help improve your core strength, sit on a large exercise ball or a chair. Maintaining good posture with your “sit bones” on the middle of the ball or chair (the two bone bumps designed to bear your seated weight), line knees up with shoulders, feet flat on the floor. Then, rotate hips slowly and deliberately, first in one direction and then in the opposite direction. This routine not only helps to strengthen the core muscles but is also a great way to warm up the body for more abdominal exercises. You may also add pelvic tilts to the routine.
Leg lifts are another way to strengthen the core and to improve balance. Sitting on an exercise ball or a chair with arms held down along your sides, slightly lift one leg, keeping the knee bent and put it down again. Repeat this five to ten times before lifting the opposite leg. You may also extend the leg out in front of you, one at a time for several repetitions.
To exercise your lats, the muscles across your mid to lower back, extend your arms straight out in front of your body and lower them slowly before raising them up again, shoulder height. Remember to keep your shoulders down and relaxed and focus on maintaining correct posture. Most of these exercises, including standing leg lifts, may also be done standing in a pool using water resistance.
According to Sharla Jensen, Fitness Instructor, Cardiac Rehabilitation (located in the Eisenhower Renker Wellness Center), maintaining good posture is one of the best ways to begin working on core strength. “The first thing I discuss with people is their posture,” says Jensen. “When you sit or stand, you want to think about pulling your navel toward your spine. Most people who aren’t used to holding themselves in the correct position are going to feel muscles that they haven’t felt for a long time.”
Jensen points out that some people have great standing posture but poor sitting posture. However, the same principal applies to both. “Pull down on your shoulders, away from your ears,” reminds Jensen. “Focus on elongating your torso, feet flat on the floor, drawing naval to spine and breathe normally. Don’t hold your breath.”
Jensen and her colleagues teach diaphragmatic breathing, inhaling through your nose with your mouth closed, and then exhaling through pursed lips. Imagine blowing on a candle to flicker the flame but not to blow it out. Try to feel your diaphragm inflating and deflating. This will also create greater awareness of what is going on in the center of your body.
People with strong abdominals usually have very few back problems, and strengthening the abdominals may decrease lower back pain. Sit-ups are a very good way to strengthen the abdominals but form is critical. Sit-ups should be done slowly with the elbows back and enough space for a fist between chin and chest. Remember “naval to spine,” keep the small of your back on the floor (mat), and raise up and down slowly, doing 20 to 30 reps. You should feel this exercise in the upper portion of you abdominal muscles. Depending on your initial strength, you may want to begin with just five reps, increasing the amount each day as you build strength.
This routine not only helps to strengthen the core muscles but is also a great way to warm up the body for more abdominal exercises.
There are many ways to strengthen core muscles. Choose what is right for you and dedicate 20 to 30 minutes a day to exercise — think of it as a 30- minute gift you are giving to yourself. “You will feel happier and more at peace,” says Jensen, “because regular exercise will ultimately affect all areas of your life.”
Before beginning any new exercise routine, check with your physician, especially if you have had back, neck or shoulder surgeries or problems.
For more information about Eisenhower Renker Wellness Center or to make an appointment with a Fitness Instructor, call 760-773-2030.