If you’ve ever heard the “this bone is connected to that bone” song you know just how important the spine/core area is, as it brings the entire musculoskeletal system into unison. The core is a group of muscles in your torso and trunk that includes the frontal and transverse abdomen, internal and external obliques, hip flexors and adductors, side and rear thigh, and the muscles that support/control your lower back and spine. People who have stronger cores tend to be less prone to injury, and have greater flexibility, higher endurance, and the ability to lift heavier weights. The following five exercises have been shown to strengthen the core and increase vitality by maximising blood flow:
1. The Plank
This has nothing to do with walking off of a pirate ship and everything to do with the more difficult task of lifting your entire body off the floor with only your toes and forearms. Lie flat on your stomach with your hands at your sides like a soldier who has toppled onto his face. Flex your arms towards the ground while tightening your core to suspend your body, and hold for 30 seconds. An easier variation of this is called the push-up plank, in which you do the same thing except you use the palm of your hands (in a push-up position) instead of your forearms. Safety tip for very skinny people: when you collapse from the position look up so you don’t smash your nose into the ground. Okay, that was a joke, continuing on…
2. The V-Sit
Lie on your back and then start to sit up while at the same time lifting your legs off of the ground so that you’re sitting on your butt with your body in the shape of a V. Hold this position for as long as possible and be prepared for intense soreness the next day if you’re not in good shape.
3. Twisting/Bicycle Crunches
To perform a twisting crunch lie on your back with your hands behind your head (you may need someone or something to hold your ankles down) then instead of crunching straight up bring one of your elbows across your body as you crunch; Alternate elbows for more symmetrical body-shaping results. To perform the bicycle crunch simple lift your opposite knee so that it meets the elbow that is crossing over your body – as you switch sides it will look kind of like you’re pedalling a bike, hence the name.
4. Bruce Lee’s Legendary Dragon Flag
Straight from the mind of the master himself comes the Dragon Flag. To sum it up you simply lie on your back on a flat or inclined bench, then use your legs and core to lift your entire lower body off of the bench so that you’re extended in a straight position with only your shoulders/upper back touching the bench. Then pivot your legs and lower body up and down in a very slow, controlled motion. If that seems confusing, here’s a thorough guide on how to do it.
5. The Superman Pushup
We’ll venture to say that at least 75% percent of you won’t be able to do this move the first time around and will instead have to work up to it using the moves above. The superman pushup actually works your entire body, not just your core. To try it, lay flat on your stomach with your hands stretched out above your head as if you’re flying like superman. Then push with your hands and feet and tighten your core to lift your body off the ground. Holding this position is extremely difficult, so most people do repetitions in small sets instead. Once you’re closer to Clark Kent’s level you can increase the difficulty by bringing your hands closer together so that your thumbs touch.
Sergio Martinez is a personal fitness expert and long-time tri-athlete who emphasizes the importance of core strengthening and proper nutrition. He recommends a combination of whole foods and dietary supplements, such as those offered by Dynamix Nutrition.