3 Pilates-Based Exercises to Improve Your Core
Your core is more than just a six-pack. Your core, also known as the trunk of your body, literally supports every movement that your body makes. Therefore, whether you are running, squatting, bench pressing, or simply breathing, your core is your foundation, your rock. A strong core cannot be simply achieved. It requires active dedication and a conscious effort to train your upper and lower abdominal muscles as well as the obliques and deepest muscles of the stomach known as the transverse abdominals. A strong core takes daily practice. So if you are looking to embark on the journey to correct muscle imbalances, to improve your posture, to strengthen your upper and lower extremities, to regulate your breathing, and to acquire a six-pack along the way, try these three Pilates-based exercises and incorporate them into your morning routine every day of the week:
1. THE PROPER PLANK
The plank: you either love it or hate it. But before you boast about the 3-minute plank you just completed, you had better check your form. In order to reap the benefits from a standard forearm plank, you must feel your core engaged at all times. The three keys to a successful plank are: 1. You must feel the burn in your core, not in your shoulders, not in your legs, not in your hip flexors. 2. In addition to consciously engaging your abdominal muscles, you must also squeeze the glutes and tuck your pelvis as if you were trying to curl your spine forward up towards your navel. Picture it, envision the mental image, and then do it with your body. 3. Your body must form one straight line from your head to your toes. Fix your gaze six inches in front of your hands so your head is aligned with your spine. Aim to hold your plank for 20 seconds if you are a plank newbie or aim for 1 full minute if you have planked before. Do not get caught up with the time. Instead focus on your form.
2. FLUTTER KICKS
Flutter kicks work the lower abdominal muscles which are by far the hardest to reach and carve out. The lower abdominal muscles are tucked deep under the skin right below the navel. In order to fall in love with flutter kicks, here are three tips. 1. Keep your lower back glued to the floor at all times. You should never feel as if there is an arch in your spine or your stomach is protruding towards the ceiling. 2. Take the work out of your hip flexors and channel the energy into your lower abs. If you feel a strain where your hips meet the top of your leg, your hip flexors are taking over. That’s ok. Inhale slowly, deeply exhale until all breath has escaped your lungs, and dig your lower back into the floor for support. 3. Do not fret about the height of your legs. Your legs are an accessory, added resistance for your core. Make a conscious effort to exhale. Feel the musculature directly underneath your navel. It should feel tight and engaged.
From my perspective, hundreds are a more dynamic full-body version of flutter kicks. In order to effectively perform hundreds, lay with your back glued to the floor (perform all these exercises with a mat if possible!), raise both legs to a 45 degree angle, toes pointed, and legs glued together, elevate your shoulders off the ground, and extend both arms out straight by your legs. Pump your arms up and down while inhaling and exhaling for 100 times (thus the name of the exercise!). If you’re a Pilates-goer or a dedicated yogi, hundreds will not be new to you. However, here are three tips on how to take your hundreds to the next level: 1. Once you elevate your shoulders off the ground, lift one inch higher. Picture a string pulling your chin to the ceiling. 2. Keep your chin out of your chest and raise your chest proudly to the ceiling. This will maximize core engagement as well as reduce strain on your neck. 3. Regulate your breath. Inhale for three seconds and exhale for three seconds.
These 3 exercises can be completed in five minutes as soon as you wake up, right before your cardio routine, or even directly before you hit the hay!
Check out more of Ashley’s fitness and nutrition tips on her blog, Fit & Focused U.