Having a strong core becomes increasingly important as we age. As the years go by, especially if a lot those years has been spent relatively inactive, our core begins to weaken – creating a cascade of consequences.
Our back starts to hurt, our posture gets more “hunched,” our hips and knees stiffen and our strength declines. Because of this, we find ourselves feeling “older” and less motivated to be active which speeds up the vicious cycle even more.
“Okay Chris, I can relate! But what can I do about this?”
The first step is to understand that regardless of whether you’re in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond, it’s NEVER too late to work on making your core stronger!
Unfortunately, though, when most people think of core exercises, the first exercise that often pops into their head is crunches. While crunches do work muscles in your abdomen called your rectus abdominis, they have little functional benefit and can actually make your posture and back pain worse (more on that in a later post).
Whenever you do any exercise, it’s always important to ask yourself how the exercise will benefit you.
When people refer to “the core” what they’re referring to is the center of our body that functions to stabilize the trunk while our arms and legs move during movements. That’s our core’s purpose.
Therefore, training for your core should focus on the muscles that control your hips, pelvis, lower spine and abdomen. Doing this properly has all kinds of benefits that include:
- Better balance
- Less back pain
- More durability (aka fewer injuries)
- Improved physical performance – especially strength and mobility
- Increased longevity
There are literally dozens of super effective core exercises that are FAR BETTER than crunches. Below are 5 that are often overlooked but very effective to help get you started.
1. Lying Pallof Presses
- Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, next to a handle that is attached to a cable column (this can also be done with a resistance band).
- The handle should be in-line with your sternum.
- Carefully turn and grab the handle with the hand that is closest while placing the other hand on top to help pull it to the starting position with your hands in the middle of the sternum.
- Keeping your glutes engaged and your lower back flat on the floor gently inhale and press straight up, resisting the rotational pull from the cable with your core.
- Slowly exhale as you pause for 1 second at the top and return to the starting position – keeping your hands over your sternum the entire time.
- Repeat as many times as desired.
- To increase the challenge on your core, you can straighten your legs and/or move further away from the anchor point.
- Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent in a 90 degree angle.
- Keep the small of your back pressed into the floor by engaging your core.
- While keeping your core engaged, slowly lower one leg towards the floor, maintaining the 90 degree angle of your knee, and then slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat with the opposite leg and then keep alternating.
3. Elevated Planks with Shoulder Taps
- Start with your hands on a sturdy base (ex: your desk or a bench) with your elbows straight.
- Maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your heels keeping your “belt buckle up.”
- Slowly lift one hand off of the desk and tap your opposite shoulder.
- Pause for 1 second and then slowly return it to the starting position, making sure not to bring it down too fast.
- Switch to the other side and keep repeating as many times as desired (for 30 seconds) while maintaining a straight spine.
4. Bird Dogs
- Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Extend one leg and the opposite arm at the same time fully extending both for 1 second (squeezing your glute as you extend your leg).
- Slowly bring your arm and leg in together without rotating your spine, touching your elbow to your knee and then extend back out.
- Repeat for as many reps as desired before coming back to the starting position and then switch sides.
5. Side Planks on Knees
- Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other with your knees slightly bent and your forearm on the floor.
- Your elbow of the arm on the floor should bend to 90 degrees and be positioned directly under your shoulder.
- While engaging your core and glutes, press up into a side plank while pushing your hips forward so they’re in-line with your torso.
- Make sure you push into the ground with our forearm so you aren’t sinking down into your shoulder.
- Hold the side-plank position for as long as desired (approximately 30 seconds) and then slowly return to the starting position and switch sides.