To build a sturdy set of core muscles, you need to go beyond your usual abs routine. “Think of your core as a big Coke can,” says Mitch Chilson, Men’s Health fitness advisor and Evolve MMA’s director of strength and conditioning. “It is a pressure mechanism that’s made of three parts.” Each of these parts: the hydraulic amplifier, the thoraco-lumbar fascia and intra-abdominal pressure mechanism work in tandem to provide stability. “Four of the major core muscles cannot actually be seen,” says Mitch. The transverse abdominis, back multifidus, top diaphragm, and bottom pelvic floor muscle all form a protective casing that stabilises the body. “This is especially crucial in protecting your spine and back muscles,” he adds.
When you perform exercises to strengthen your core muscles, your total-body strength improves. “When you strengthen your entire core, internal pressure mechanism becomes stronger too,” says Mitch.
Before you can train your core muscles effectively, you need to activate them first, says Mitch. There are two techniques that instantly activate your core muscles:
Hollowing: Begin by contracting your pelvic floor muscles (the muscles that prevent you from urinating), and then draw your belly button into your lower stomach.
Abdominal Brace: While maintaining the Hollowing manoeuvre, contract the core muscles in your torso, and keep your trunk fixed. “Once you’ve mastered these techniques, you’ll experience greater stability, strength and power in all your exercises,” says Mitch.
THE SIDE PLANK
Prop yourself up sideways, using your left forearm for support, with your knees in front of you and your heels aligned with your hips. Place your right hand onto your left shoulder. Resting your body weight on your elbows and knees, push your hips off the floor and hold the position for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Maintain a straight diagonal posture.
Challenging change-up: Instead of resting on your knees, place your right foot in front of your left foot for support, then push your hips up.
Lie on your back, hold on to a secure stool behind you, and bring your legs up with your knees bent. Tap your knees to your elbows. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions.
THE BAND BRACE
Secure a monster band to a pillar or have someone hold it for you. Clasp the band with your right hand first, then your left. Stretch the band until your hands are directly in front of you. Hold the position for 30-60 seconds. Release slowly. Repeat on other side.
LOWER ABDOMINAL EXERCISE #1
Place a hand between the small of your back and the floor. Lift your legs up until your calves are parallel to the floor, lower your right leg and tap your right heel on the floor. As you go up, lower your left leg and tap your left heel on the floor. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions. As you perform this movement, feel that the small of your back is not pressing up and down against your hand. This teaches core control – being able to move your hips without moving your lumbar back.
THE SWISS BALL ROLLOUT
Kneel in front of a Swiss ball. Supporting yourself on your knees and feet, roll yourself forward, maintaining a straight line. Pause, then roll yourself backwards. Perform eight to 10 repetitions. To maintain a tight core, do not hyper-extend your back.
Challenging Change-up: Use an ab wheel to roll yourself forward and back. Make sure that the wheel rolls in a straight line. Go as low as you can before rolling backwards. Perform eight to 10 repetitions.
LOWER ABDOMINAL EXERCISE #2
Instead of tapping one heel at a time, lower both legs and tap both heels on the floor, and move back to the starting position. Perform 10 to 12 repetitons.