Fitness Q&A by Richard Weil
Check with your doctor before you do any of these exercises. An enlarged spleen can be serious, and your doctor should give you the okay before you start any exercise program.
"Core" exercises have been the buzzword for some time. Although humans have been using their core muscles since the beginning of time, exercise scientists, physical therapists, fitness trainers, and others have recently been pushing the virtues of exercising the core. What is the core? The core is loosely defined as the spine, abdomen, pelvis, and hips, and the muscles that support these structures for posture and movement. More than 30 different muscles may be involved. Some of the main core muscles are the erector spinae (located in your back along your spine), the internal and external obliques (the sides of your abdomen), the transverse abdominis (located deep in your gut, this muscle pulls your belly button in toward your spine), the rectus abdominis (the "six-pack"), and hip flexors (in your pelvis and upper leg). These and many other muscles team up to support and stabilize your body when you walk, run, and do many other activities. Although there isn't a large body of research at this time, the evidence that exists suggests that a strong core can help control movement, improve posture, protect the low back, hips, and even knees from injury, and provide a more stable center of gravity and base for movement.
Importantly, core muscles work best when they work together. For example, a golfer who has a strong core may swing the club better if all the muscles in his abdomen, low back, and hips, work synergistically. If his low back muscles don't work in unison with his abs and hips, then the swing might be off. The same holds true for all other sports movements, recreational exercise, and even activities of daily living like pushing a grocery cart, opening a heavy door, or carrying a package.
How do you get the core muscles to work together? Here are some tips:
2. Do the exercises slowly, focusing on the muscles as you do them.
3. Don't hold your breath while doing them. Instead, breathe slowly in and out through your nose and mouth. There is no reason to breathe just through your nose.
4. Work hard on each exercise, and then move on to the next exercise when you are tired or lose your concentration. You want to maintain focus throughout the exercise to maximize the benefit.
Below are 10 of the best core exercises starting with gentle to more intense. In all of them, take your time and focus on your core muscles: the abdomen, hips, and back. Do them slowly so you can feel the core muscles working, and hold each for five to six seconds unless instructed otherwise. Do eight to 12 repetitions and one to three sets for each exercise.
b. Keep your knees at 90 degrees.
c. Put your hands across your chest.
d. Pull your belly button in to activate the deep abdominal muscles.
e. Raise your head and shoulders slowly off the floor, pause one to two seconds, then return to the floor.
2. Quadruped (sometimes called Bird Dog):
b. Lift your left leg straight back, then your right leg.
c. Now try lifting your left leg and right arm at the same time, then switch.
3. Superman (You've done this if you practice Hatha Yoga.):
b. Lift your right arm and left leg off the floor.
c. For a more advanced exercise, lift both arms and both legs off the floor simultaneously. You can start with arms at your sides and then progress to the arms overhead.
4. Plank (primary muscles are back, abs, and legs):
b. Lift your hips off the floor with your back straight so that you are resting on just your forearms and your toes.
c. Focus on the muscles in your hips, abs, and low back (those are your core muscles working).
d. Hold for five to six seconds.