ON THE BALL
Hard-core drills designed to keep you centered
By R.J. Ignelzi
Copley News Service
Fit abs and a strong core do more than look good. They do your entire body good. The muscles of the torso are essential for all movements and essential for sports performance and injury prevention.
Jessica Matthews, an American Council on Exercise-certified fitness trainer, demonstrates some core-strengthening exercises.
- Prone walkout: Strengthens the core and works the arms, shoulders and chest.
Bend forward over a stability ball and walk your hands out on the ground in front of you, keeping your shins and feet on the ball. Engage the abdominal muscles, keep the back and hips straight and the head in neutral position. Hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds and walk the hands back in. Repeat three times.
- Stability ball crunches: Engages and strengthens the core.
Sit on a stability ball and then slowly walk the feet forward until the lower back is fully supported on the ball. Keep the legs wide to start. The hips should be flexed and the abdominal muscles contracted as you lift the shoulders off the ball slowly and back down again. Abdominal muscles should stay contracted during the entire movement. Hands should be behind the head without pulling on it, and the neck should be in a neutral position. To add to the challenge, bring the feet together. Do three sets of 12 crunches.
- Gluteal bridge: Strengthens the core with emphasis on the gluteal muscles.
Lie on your back with arms out to either side, and slowly put one leg at a time on a stability ball, so your calves and feet are planted on the ball. Push the feet down into the ball as you lift your hips up with only your head and shoulders on the ground. Slowly lift one leg at a time off the ball for a five-second hold. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
- Russian Twist: Engages and strengthens the core with emphasis on the oblique muscles.
Lie face-up on a stability ball with shoulder blades on the ball, knees bent and hips held high off the ground. Lift arms straight above you with hands together. Without rotating the hips, slowly turn your arms and shoulders to one side so they are perpendicular to the ground. Twist back to the starting position and then turn to the other side. Do two sets of 10 twists.
- Quadruped position: Strengthens the core and stabilizes the spine.
While on all fours, lift the opposite arm and leg. Straighten the limbs, with the thumb up and the toes pointed. Engage the abdominal muscles, keep the back flat with no arch, and make sure the neck is in neutral position. Hold the quadruped for a count of 10 and switch sides. Repeat three times on each side.
- Seated core pulls: Strengthens the core with emphasis on the obliques.
While sitting on a stability ball, pull a stretch cord attached to a pole in front of you, to one side of your chest and then the other side. At the same time, lift the foot on the opposite side off the ground. Keep the abdominal muscles contracted and the back straight. Hold each pull/foot lift for five seconds. Repeat 12 times on each side.
Try this same exercise with both feet resting on a medicine ball to add some instability and force the core to work harder. Instead of pulling the stretch cord to the side, pull it straight back to the chest, keeping the back straight and abs engaged. Hold each pull for five seconds. Repeat 12 times.
Getting a strong core is as much about form as function. Fabio Comana, exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, offers some core exercise tips.
- Don't hold your breath.
- Perform repetitions at a slow, controlled pace.
- Start with basic core exercises and progress by adding balance challenges (standing on one leg, for example) to the movement.
- Keep a neutral spine, with the head level, shoulders back and down and no excessive arch in the lower back.
- When performing "bridge" exercises, keep the hips elevated.
- Don't pull on the head when doing crunches.
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