Intermediate Core Stability Exercises
The following exercises are intended for those who have mastered the basics and are looking for a little more of a challenge while developing core stability. Let’s start with the basic position: lying on your back with your knees bent, in a neutral position…
While relaxed, breathing deeply, and contracting your deep muscles, gently lift your right foot an inch or so above the floor, hold for 5 seconds, then lower it gently to the floor again. Reset your neutral position and try this with your left foot. Remember to keep relaxed and control your breathing.
Example Session: When you are ready, start some ‘reps’ of the exercise: 10 lifts of each foot, holding for 10 seconds, with 10 seconds recovery - you can alternate your feet for each rep, or do all 10 reps on each foot in one go. Make sure you are in your neutral position before each lift (as you become more proficient at the exercises, you won’t need to keep re-setting your position).
Using the same method, slowly lower your right knee to an angle of 45 degrees and hold this position for 5 seconds. Make sure the knee is returned to its original position in a controlled manner, then reset your neutral position and start again - this time with the left knee.
Example Session: 10 reps on each side, taking 3 seconds to lower the knee, holding for 5 seconds, and returning the knee to the original position in 3 seconds, with 10 seconds recovery. If you feel your pelvis tilting or moving, then stop, re-set your neutral position, and have another go – it is important to keep your neutral position throughout the exercise.
Similar to exercise 1, but a progression: relax, breath deeply, contract your deep muscles, and gently lift your right foot an inch above the floor. From here, extend your leg to parallel with the floor. Hold this for a couple of seconds, and then return the leg to the original position, finally lowering the foot. This whole movement should be controlled – pelvic movement should be minimised, and if you lose your neutral position then stop, reset, and start again.
Example Session: 5 extensions on each leg, taking 4 seconds to extend your leg, holding for 3 seconds at full extension, and returning the leg to the start position in 4 seconds.
Now lets move onto another position: lying on your front, with your forehead resting on your arms…
While relaxed, breathing deeply and contracting your deep muscles, try and lift your right leg. This is a hard movement, and requires you to contract your glute muscles in your bottom, but while maintaining in an otherwise relaxed state.
Example Session: As this is a hard exercise, try lifting your leg in a controlled manner, holding it about 10cm off the ground, and holding the position for only 3 seconds, before lowering it under control to the ground again. Keep this rhythm for the reps, and try 6 lifts for each leg.
While breathing deeply, and contracting your core muscles, gently raise your shoulders off the ground (with your hands now by your ears) and pull your shoulders back towards your pelvis (a ‘back raise’). This should be a controlled, slow movement – try taking 6-10 seconds to lift your shoulders off the ground and then replace them in the starting position.
Example Session: The number of reps you do may be determined by the ease of the movement. Start at 10 reps and see how this feels, adjusting the number of reps according to how difficult or easy you find it. Remember that although the movement is coming from your lower back, you should still be able to contract your core muscles throughout the exercise.
If you’ve got this far, you’re doing well! Let’s move onto the hardest of the positions outlined in the basics: the horse stance. Remember in this position, your hands should be directly under your shoulders, and your knees should be directly under your hips, so you have right angles at all the joints involved (shoulders, hips and knees).
While maintaining a neutral shoulder position, lift one hand off the floor, and extend the arm fully forwards so that it is now parallel with your back. Hold this position briefly and return the arm to its original position. You will need to transfer weight across your shoulders before you move your hand, but make sure that you don’t move position too much and alter your neutral position. If this happens, try re-setting yourself and starting again. When you have got used to the exercise, try it with the other arm.
Example Session: Try 10 reps on each side, taking 6 seconds for a completed movement (arm up, arm down). The exercise can then be made harder by extending your arm further.
Identical to exercise 6, except you lift a leg rather than an arm. Lift your right knee off the ground, while extending your foot backwards and up. The movement should be completed by fully extending the leg so that it is parallel with the back from the glute to the heel of the foot. Again, you will need to transfer weight across your body, this time the pelvis - make sure that you don’t move the position too much, otherwise you will lose the neutral position and have to start again. When you have lifted your leg to its full extension, hold the position briefly, and then return to the starting position. Now try the other leg.
Example Session: Try 6 reps on each leg, taking 10 seconds to complete the movement (leg up, leg down). Again, the exercise is made harder depending on how extended you can get keep your leg. If you struggle with the movement, then start by lifting your knee off the floor, and progress up to leg extension.
The above exercises require a core contraction while trying to complete a series of movements. There are, however, also exercises that can be used to strengthen your core that require no movement: these are known as ‘bridges’ or ‘planks’.
The first static exercise that you can try is the front bridge, which is perhaps the most well-known of the ‘planks’. To perform this exercise, lie on your front with your toes in contact with the floor and your arms folded underneath your shoulders, and from here lift yourself so that you are resting on your forearms and your toes, with a flat bottom so that there is as straight a line as possible between your neck and your legs. Throughout the front plank exercise, it is important to not let yourself sag at the hips, shoulders or bottom – although the latter should also not be kept too high.
Example Session: If you can hold this position without sagging or straining, then try holding it for 10 seconds, having a break, and then trying for 20 seconds – all the way up until you can hold it for a minute. If you can hold the plank for a minute easily, then try several reps of 30-45 seconds each.
Also known as the side-plank, this exercise is a little more complicated than the front bridge in that there are three types of rotation that need to be avoided. To start, lie on your side with one foot in contact with the floor and the other resting on top. From here, ease yourself up to your forearm so that your hips are now above the floor, and so that there is a straight line forming from your shoulders to your foot. As well as this, you will need to make sure that your hips are in line with your shoulders and not bending too far forwards or backwards, and that your chest is not rotating too far forwards or backwards. In other words, and observer should see a straight line from the front, the side, and from above.
Example Session: When you are used to the exercise, try holding yourself in this position for 30 seconds, and then swap to the other side and hold for the same time. Once you feel completely comfortable with the exercise, try holding yourself in position while tensing your glutes, hamstrings, shoulders and calves.
The back bridge is the least complicated of the three: Lie on your back with your arms by your side, and lift yourself up so that your body rests on your heels and forearms, and so that your hips and shoulders are off the ground – the key position here is to keep a straight line between your knees and your shoulders.
Example Session: When you are comfortable with the position, try holding this position for 30 secs-1 minute and resting.
If you are able to do all of the above exercises, it is time for you to move onto a more advanced core stability program…
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