It is impossible to have a strong body without a strong core. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the muscles in your core are the visible muscles of the abdomen. In addition to the abdominal muscles, there is a network of other vitally important core muscles in the trunk of your body. Exercises that target the superficial core muscles are popular because, well, abs, but if you are in search of a high level of core strength and stability and not just aesthetics you need to go a little deeper than your traditional sit ups and crunches. Strong core muscles not only look attractive, but they support and protect your spine from injury. Your spine houses and protects your spinal cord, AKA your central nervous system. So the way you treat and strengthen your core and back is pretty damn important. If you want to live a healthy, active, life, free from pain one thing you can do is build your core.
The oblique and rectus abdominis muscles are the most superficial and visible muscles of your core- the muscles that most people are aware of and want to look good. The following exercises are more focused on the deeper, less visible muscles of your core.
The plank is an excellent and full body exercise. There are tons of variations you can do – high plank, forearm plank, side planks. They will train and strengthen your transverse abdominis. I like to refer to transverse abdominis as your internal weight belt. It is designed to perform the same role as a well functioning weight belt and the action is to draw your belly button to your spine – how many times have you heard a coach cue that (or something of the like) while warming up on deadlifts? Squats? And basically everything else we do…
CrossFitters love moving fast, and we can get bored easily. From a mental standpoint, it can be harder to be still and physically challenged than to move fast through a WOD. Test your mental strength and start spending more time in your plank. When planks come up in a workout, approach them with as much focus and dedication as your would any other exercise. You can make your planks more “interesting” by lifting one arm or leg (or one arm and one leg) without moving any other part of your body. Hold as long as you can and then switch sides and repeat. Do 100 shoulder taps in your plank. Read a book in your plank. Spend more time there and your body will thank you in the long run.
Now flip it and reverse it….
The supine, or reverse plank is another great but underutilized exercise. Keep your entire body active as you would in a normal plank. The reverse/ supine plank not only strengthens your back body, it stretches and opens your chest/ shoulders and wrists.
Try holding your high plank for 1 minute, rest 15 seconds, then hold a reverse plank for 30 seconds, and rest another 15 seconds. Repeat for 4 rounds or 8 minutes.
Belly down core
When most people think of core exercises they automatically think of things where your belly is up – hollow position, crunches, etc. Try to incorporate some belly down core to balance your body and create strength on your back side. This could include reverse crunches (belly down, interlace your hands behind your head, keep your lower body grounded and lift your chest and head away from the floor), “superman” holds with a PVC pipe (arms should width distance apart- no wider – and legs glued together) , and swimmers (start on your belly with your arms in front of your body, lift opposite arm and leg off the ground, release, lift other side).
For any belly down core I would recommend doing one movement at a time, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off and repeat for 4 minutes to start. Once you feel good after 4 minutes of work, add a minute to your time until you reach 8 minutes.
The great thing about these exercises is that a little goes a long way. These exercises can be done in just a couple minutes out of your day anywhere you want to do them. Dedicate just 5 minutes a day to strengthening your core and your body will thank you later.
Written By: Alexa Pancza