Core Training and Core Stability

Core stability is an essential part of our life, vet we often fail to realize the effect it has on our everyday activities. Without a stable core, your muscles are not optimally balanced, and your natural movement pattern will adapt to this imbalance which can lead to injury.

Many people develop back pain as a result of weak or unused core muscles and that is why it is important to include specific exercises for this area. Core stability also improves balance, muscular co-ordination and the ability to develop power. Without building a good stable core you may not be able to reach your full potential in the rest of the programme.

Pelvic Stability

The first step to increase strength in the pelvic area involves establishing and recognizing a ‘neutral position’. Once this position is in place you can apply small challenges to your centre with your levers (arms and legs) to make your core work harder in maintaining your stability.

Neutral Spine/Relaxation Position

• Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor hip-width apart.

• Begin to relax the body.

• Breathe in, then breathe out and release your shoulders. Let them soften, drop and open.

• Breathe in again and then breathe out and release your ribcage so it softens in to the floor.

Continue breathing wide into your ribcage – as if breathing into the floor.

• Place the heels of your hands on the hip bones and fingers on the pubic bone (your hands form a diamond shape).

• Gently tilt the pelvis down and up until it feels as though your hands are parallel to the floor (not pointing down or up).

• Draw the navel towards the spine so it is contracted 30 per cent (draw the tummy slightly away from the hands).

• Maintain the breathing and continue to engage your abdominal muscles.

This position may not feel too difficult to hold, but you should have a constant sense of awareness in the neutral position. All movement should challenge this neutral and engaged position, which means that you may have to engage your abdominals to 70-80 per cent to avoid any unwanted movement in the pelvis or spine when performing the exercises at the most difficult phase.

Synchronizing your breathing is not essential when you are doing these exercises so please do not feel overwhelmed if you cannot co-ordinate the breath with the movement straight away Keep your breathing slow and controlled and in time you may wish to adjust your breathing to the movement. This will improve your overall focus and co-ordination.

Try the following exercises, repeating them a few times.

Knee Folds

• Get into neutral.

• Breathe in to prepare.

• Breathe out, engage navel to spine and slowly fold the right knee up to a right angle. Stop at the point where the knee is balanced above the hip (the shape of the bent leg should not have changed).

• Breathe wide into the ribcage (try to avoid any tension building with the breath).

• Breathe out and slowly return the bent leg back to the floor (make sure the abdominals do not dome or the back arch).

• Repeat with the left leg.

Knee Circles

You will need either a Dynaband, a pair of tights or a towel.

• Wrap the Dynaband around the back of one thigh close to the knee.

• Find neutral spine.

• Lift the right leg up to a right angle using the above technique for knee folds. Hold the band with the right hand and make sure the elbow is on the floor.

• Imagine you are drawing circles with your knee on the ceiling. Make sure there is no movement anywhere else in the body apart from the thigh bone rotating in the hip socket, pull navel to spine treating it like the centre pin of all your movement. There should be NO rocking at the pelvis.

• Breathe normally.

• Circle the knee in the opposite direction.

• Repeat on the other side.

Notice how much you have to pull in your stomach to maintain a neutral position — and there is hardly any movement from the body at this point!

Knee Drops

This is not a hip mobility exercise to see how far the knee can open, this is an exercise to see how far the knee can drop while keeping the hips level and the pelvis completely stable.

• Find neutral spine.

• Breathe in to prepare.

• Breathe out and allow one knee to fall to the side. Resist the weight of your leg as you keep control in your centre (do not let the opposite knee fall out as a counterbalance).

• Breathe in to hold.

• Breathe out and draw navel to spine to pull the knee back in to the starting position.

• Repeat with the opposite leg.

Imagine your centre is like a fishing rod. You are allowing the knee to drop under a slow release line and drawing the knee back in with control.

ABDOMINAL BUILDING

How many times have you done a sit-up to gain flat abs? Are you getting flat abs? As with posture, it’s important to work the muscles the way we eventually want them to look. When you perform a sit-up it probably hurts, which means you are using the abdominals; if you touch the muscle, you can feel it has tensed. This indicates that the muscle has been activated and most people can actually see it tighten outwards. Hang on . . . if you can see the abdominal muscle tightening and contracting in a domed shape outwards, which way are you building the abdominal growth? Outwards! If you want to have lengthened, toned, flatter abdominals it is critical you work the muscle inwards and keep it pulled in when performing any exercise. This can only be achieved with core strength and mastering the technique of engaging and drawing navel to spine in anticipation of any performed movement.

Contracting Navel to Spine

Here is the safest sit-up in the world. I guarantee you will be working the abdominals inwards without any of the pains and strains people often get when doing this movement incorrectly.

• Lie on the floor face down (take a few moments to relax).

• Place your head on your hands so you are comfortable.

• Breathe in.

• Breathe out and pull the navel into the spine to around 70 per cent of the maximum contraction you could achieve. Imagine there is a piece of cold ice underneath you and you’re trying to lift away from it.

• Breathe in and hold the abdominals contracted (your new training point

• Breathe out to relax.

Repeat this at least 10 times and as often as you can so you feel comfortable with the process.

The more you practise the easier it will become.

Once you have completed this exercise try holding the abdominals at the 70 per cent mark and continue breathing normally Hold the contraction for around 10 to 30 seconds and then release. This will increase your ability to hold and sustain a contraction and will help you in later exercises.

You may also want to try the same exercises on all fours which will let you see just how much you can pull in your abdominal area. Make sure you do not let the back arch when you lift or sink when you release.

Pelvic Floor

The pelvic floor muscle is the muscle responsible for holding the bladder, bowels and womb in place and closes the anus, vagina and urethra. Most people do not use this muscle enough which means it becomes lazy and lax. Women are often taught exercises to re-tighten this muscle after they have given birth, but it is sometimes hard to feel because it is weak and possibly damaged.

The pelvic floor muscle is the one you would squeeze to stop in mid flow when you are passing water. Now; although this is a great way to understand where the pelvic floor is I wouldn’t advise you to go running off to the loo to practise as this can actually weaken the muscle as opposed to strengthening it.

Here’s what I want you to do to strengthen and improve the use of your pelvic floor:

• Sit cross-legged (or have feet quite far from your bottom with the soles together if that’s more comfortable) grow tall and straight (no slouching!).

• Put your hands underneath your bottom, palms up and fingers spread wide, so you can feel the base of your spine.

• Squeeze your bottom and feel how you lift off your hands as the muscles contract, then relax.

• Squeeze the muscle in the space between your hands and fingertips (between both buttocks), draw up and in with the contraction. Try and hold it before you release.

Once you have tried that a few times and have established where the muscle is, try the following exercise while seated, to focus and improve the contraction:

• Imagine the pelvic floor is like a lift waiting at ground level.

• Close the lift doors and squeeze up to the first floor.

• Hold the contraction, then take the lift back to the ground floor and release the doors.

• Close the doors again and take the lift to the first floor, hold here and then squeeze up to the second floor, hold, then release back to ground level.

Repeat as many times as you want and as often as you want; remember, no one can ever see you working your pelvic floor because it’s all on the inside! While performing the pelvic floor exercise try to avoid squeezing your buttocks and legs or pulling your stomach in. Make sure you don’t hold your breath!

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