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4 Exercises to Strengthen Your Core

Whether you're struggling with pain or merely want to look and feel better for an upcoming vacation, these four basic exercises will help you get there. The best part? They are classic moves that have been practiced by athletes for years and are a great way to build up your body's core strength quickly.

Understand that if you're recovering from an injury or starting a core strengthening routine for the first time after a lengthy lull, it is helpful to consult with a physical therapist prior to engaging in strenuous exercise. A physical therapist can advise you of appropriate adjustments you can make to perform the movements safely until your body is ready for more strain.

Start by completing these moves five times each. As your core strength increases, move up to 15 to 25 repetitions.

1. Plank

Perhaps the most well-celebrated core strengthening exercise of all time, the plank serves as a great warmup that engages all of your core muscles: the rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, transversus abdominis, the hip flexors, the erector spinae and multifidus.

  1. Place the forearms on the ground with the elbows aligned below the shoulders and arms parallel to the body at about shoulder-width distance.

  2. Firmly plant your toes into the ground and squeeze your glutes to support your body. Utilize your leg strength to keep yourself upright in a pushup position.

  3. Maintain your neck and spine neutrality by looking at a spot approximately one foot beyond your hands.

  4. Stay in this position for as long as possible without compromising your form or breathing.

2. Abdominal Crunch

There's no way to sugarcoat it: This exercise can feel brutal if you have been out of the exercise loop for long. However, it is a power move that your physical therapist is apt to recommend to add strength and endurance to your core.

  1. Lie on your back and lift your feet to a wall so that your hips and knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Engage your abdominal muscles and glutes.

  2. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground. To avoid neck strain, place your arms across your chest rather than behind your head. Hold for three deep breaths.

  3. Resume your starting position and repeat.

3. Bicycle Crunch

Though the name sounds painful, the bicycle crunch is one of the most effective ways to strengthen your rectus abdominis and obliques.

  1. Lie flat on the floor with your lower back firmly on the ground.

  2. Rest your hands beneath your head without pulling on your neck.

  3. Raise your knees to a 45-degree angle, and slowly move through the bicycle pedaling motion.

  4. With each repetition, bring your elbow to your knee so that your right elbow meets your left knee and your left elbow meets your right knee.

  5. Repeat without sacrificing your form or breathing, adding more repetitions as you build strength and endurance.

4. Bridge Exercise

The bridge exercise isolates and strengthens your hamstrings and glutes. Combined with a single leg bridge, you can improve abs and lower back muscles. It also serves as a rehabilitation exercise to improve core and spinal stabilization.

  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.

  2. Place your arms flat near your sides.

  3. Tighten your butt and ab muscles as you lift your hips to create a straight line between your knees and shoulders.

  4. Hold the position for 15 to 60 seconds or until you begin to lose control of your body.

  5. To increase intensity, lift your feet so that only your toes are touching the ground. Then, alternate so that only your heels are on the ground.

Anticipate some challenges as you begin core strengthening exercises. If you're new to exercise or have taken a break, you'll be working muscles that have been stagnant for quite some time. Go slow, but remain persistent.

If you'd like more help devising a routine unique to your needs, contact our office for a full physical therapy evaluation and exercise plan.