Fire in the belly. When you work your core, you are igniting the center of your body, sparking a fire that carries you through your life. The core of your body is what holds you up, keeps you motivated, and gives you strength. It is important to keep that fire stoked and burning, but a healthy core work-out cannot neglect the back of the body. Working on your core means working on the strength in the back of the body, targeting the deep muscles in the stomach, and stretching the hip flexors.

Back Strengthening

Arm and leg extensions: Start on hands and knees, with hands directly beneath your shoulders and knees directly beneath your hips. Inhale and stretch your right arm forward and extend your left leg back. Keeping the muscles of your stomach engaged will help maintain your balance. As you exhale, bring the elbow to the knee underneath you, using your core to bring your leg in. Repeat five times, remembering to breathe as you move, then switch sides (left arm forward, right leg back).  As you do this exercise, do not sink into your arms or let your belly sag.

Knees to chest with a twist: Lying on your back, take a deep breath in, and on an exhale, pull both knees up to your chest. Rock side to side, gently, massaging the low back. Take a few breaths here. On an exhale, drop both knees to one side with your arms stretched out in a T. Go slowly and be gentle. If your knees don’t touch, that’s okay. Support them at first with a blanket or a pillow. Look over the opposite shoulder and stay in this position for several breaths. Take a breath in to bring your knees to the center, pause briefly, then repeat on the other side.

Core Strengthening

Pelvic tilt: This is a good exercise to start with if you are just beginning to strengthen your core. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet parallel to each other and your arms at your side. Inhale, and on an exhale, tighten your lower stomach muscles so that your bellybutton pushes towards the floor. Hold for five seconds. Repeat five to ten times.

Crunches, with a twist: Lie on your back and extend your legs into the air, flexing your feet as if you are trying to stand on the ceiling. Lace your fingers behind your head, and on an exhale, engage your stomach muscles to lift your torso towards your legs. Keep your head in line with your spine. Repeat five times. Then, on an exhale, as you rise, twist the right shoulder towards the left knee. Lower, and twist the left shoulder to the right knee. Repeat five times on both sides.

Planks: Planks are the ultimate in core and back strengthening combined. They can be done either in a push-up position or with your body lowered down onto forearms. Keep your core engaged, and don’t let your hips sink towards the ground. Your head should be in line with the spine, and your gaze should be somewhere between your hands. Hold your plank for 20 seconds to start, and gradually add to that time.

Roll down the spine: Start in a seated position with legs straight out in front of you. On an exhale, start to slowly, one vertebrae at a time, roll down your spine until you are lying down. Keep your core engaged. At one point, your body will want to flop down because that is the area in your core that needs the most work. Stop right before you flop and hold your position for a few breaths, then let yourself slowly down. Repeat as you slowly rise back to a seated position, and go through this a total of five times.

Hip Flexor Stretches

Low lunge: Step one foot in front of you about three feet. Lower your body down until the back knee touches the ground and your front thigh is parallel to the ground. Engage your core and straighten your torso up and away from the front leg. Stay here and breathe into the stretch. It will be intense, but if you feel sharp pain anywhere, back off. Repeat the stretch on the other leg.

Butterfly stretch: Sit with the soles of your feet touching in front of you. Inhale, then exhale and fold over your feet. Take five deep breaths while you are folded over, then on an inhale rise up. Repeat.

Side lunge: Stand with feet out to your sides about three feet apart. Slowly sink your weight back into your hips as you bend the right leg into a lunge. Your left foot can turn with toes flexing upwards. Hold for five breaths. Switch sides by rising slightly then shifting your weight to the other leg.

As always when starting an exercise program, ask your doctor to make sure these core work-outs will fit your needs. Go slowly as you start, especially if you are rehabilitating an injury. Strong abs make for a happy back, and these simple exercises will go a long way towards increasing your core strength.

What core work-outs make your back feel best?

Image by Thomas’s Pics via Flickr


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