The core is made up of muscles — movers and stabilizers that provide firm support for the spine to support the activities we do.
Look at it like this — if it is a muscle that attaches to your spine, it’s a core muscle. These muscles are important because they transfer force through your body and prevent you from developing back, hip, knee, and even neck pain (which no athlete wants). Sounds like something that should be focused on, right?
Unfortunately, athletes often have woefully under-trained core muscles. Why?
- Think that they’re getting enough core strength via their other workout sessions
- They aren’t sure exactly what needs to be trained (or how to do it)
These exercises will improve your core strength, and they don’t require any extra equipment, making them perfect for your home exercise routine! You can even do them while watching television! This routine includes modifications and advanced options, so you can adapt it to fit your current abilities and make it more challenging it as you get stronger.
Ideally, athletes should complete three sets of this circuit (with the recommended repetitions), 3-4 days per week to develop strong, healthy core muscles and help prevent pain or injury.
Lying on your stomach, place your elbows directly under your shoulders. Raise your hips off the ground, so you are balancing on your elbows and toes. Squeeze your glutes for stabilization. Your legs should also be actively engaged. Your head and neck should stay in a neutral position. Keep your gaze focused on the floor just ahead of your hands (do not look down toward your feet, or up across the room). Breathe normally. Hold the position for 30-60 seconds. As you get stronger, slowly increase your time. Aim to hold each plank for up to 2 minutes.
Modification: If this position is too difficult (or aggressive), drop your knees to the ground, so your body forms a straight line, from the top of your head to your knees.
Advanced Skill: Leg raise. Keeping the hips level, gently lift one foot off the ground a few inches, then place back down. Then lift the other foot off the ground and replace it. Repeat as many times as you can while keeping good form.
Lie on your back with your arms outstretched on the ground at 45° angles. Your spine is in a neutral position (this means there is a soft curve in the lower back and a flat pelvis). Your knees are bent, and your feet are flat on the floor. Breathe in, draw your belly button towards your spine, and lift one leg off the ground. Make sure to keep the bend in your knee. Stop when the knee is directly over the hip at 90°. On the next inhale, lower your foot gently to the floor. Repeat the movement on the other side.
Stop and reset your position if you feel your lower back starting to arch. Start with 10 repetitions on each side, working your way up to 15.
Advanced skill: Start with your legs in tabletop position, knees over hips with a 90° angle between your thighs and calves. Keeping the angle, lower one foot to the floor, then raise back to tabletop position. Repeat on the other side. Make sure to keep that soft curve in your lower back.
Stop and reset your position if you feel your lower back starting to arch.
Lie on your right side with your right forearm, hip, and feet on the ground. Legs are straight out and stacked so that you form a straight line from your head to your heels. On your exhale, use your obliques to lift your body, so it is balanced on your forearms and feet. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat on the left side.
Work up to at least three planks per side. You can also add time to each plank as your core gets stronger.
Modification: If this position is too aggressive, you can drop your bottom knee to the ground. Your body will still form a straight line between the tip of your head and the foot of your top leg.
Advanced skill: Add a hip drop. From the side plank position, slowly lower your bottom hip to the floor, then raise back up to the original side plank position.
Place your back flat on the wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Adjust your feet so that your ankles are stacked directly under your knees. Keep your feet flat on the ground and your back flat against the wall. Hold for 30-60 seconds, then rest.
Modification: This position is easier if your hips are slightly above your knees – meaning that your thighs aren’t quite parallel to the floor. Make sure that your knees still stack directly over your ankles.
Advanced skill: Try marching in the wall sit position. Lift one foot off the floor, hold for a second, then place back on the floor. Repeat on the other side. Make sure to keep your back flat against the wall and hips level.
Lie on your side, resting your head on your bottom arm or hand. Bend both knees and draw them forward in front of your body. Stack your feet on top of each other and line them up with your spine. Put your top hand on your top hip so that you can feel if your hip starts to tilt backward. Keep your pelvis still and slowly rotate your top knee towards the ceiling. Keep your feet touching throughout the movement. Pause for one second, then slowly return the leg to the start position. You’ll feel this movement in the outside of the top hip, your lower back, and waist. Do 10-12 repetitions on each side to start with, working your way up to 15.
Advanced Skill: Add a band. Place a band around your thighs, a few inches above the knees. Repeat the exercise above with the added resistance.
Lie on your back with your spine in a neutral position (gentle curve). Both knees are lifted to 90 degrees and directly over the hips. Arms reach straight up to the ceiling with wrists in line with the shoulders. On your next exhale, extend your right leg forward to hover just off the ground. At the same time, extend your left arm back, so it hovers just above the ground. Then, inhale and return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side (left leg/right arm).
Keep your spine and pelvis still through this exercise. Stop and reset your position if you feel your pelvis rolling forward. Do 10 repetitions on each side to start with, working your way up to 15 on each side.
Advanced Skill: Instead of bending your knees in a 90-degree angle, extend the legs straight up in the air with your ankles in line with your hips. Arm position is the same as above. Then, lower the right leg to hover just above the ground while extending the left arm back so that it hovers just above the ground. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side (left leg/right arm).
Maria Netherland is USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach, USA Triathlon Youth & Juniors Certified Coach, a Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Performance Enhancement Specialist and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.