Top Core Stability Exercises
If you read my last post, you were learned all about what the core is, but left you hanging as to how to train your core. Well, look no further, I have included a few of my favourite core exercises to enhance stability and support the spine.
Given Dr. Stu McGill's prominence in the field of spine stability, and his high success rates on rehabbing the injured low back, it was a no-brainer to include McGill's Big 3 in my list of top core stability exercises.
1. The Curl Up: Similar to a sit up, but much safer for the spine. Start laying on the ground with 1 or both knees bent so the feet are flat on the floor (you choose which feels best!). Then, brace your core. This is done by squeezing the ab muscles (not sucking the abs in) as if you are about to be punched in the gut. Once you have braced your core, lift your shoulder blades off the ground 1-2", keeping your neck in line with your spine and keeping your spine straight. Then, lower your body down to the ground, and repeat! Make sure you are breathing here while your core is braced, this is key! Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps daily (quality is key here! Better to do higher quality reps than more here)
2. The Bird Dog: Start by positioning yourself on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders, and shoulder width apart. Place your knees hip width apart, just under your hips. Maintain a neutral spine, and brace your core (as described above). Ensure you can maintain this position while breathing in and out. Extend one leg backwards until level with the hips, keeping the pelvis stable (ie not rotating!) At the same time, reach the opposite arm forward until it is at shoulder height, again avoiding any rotation of the spine. A good way to think of this is to envision your favourite beverage sitting in a glass on your low back. You want to do these movements in such a way as to prevent your favourite beverage from spilling! Return your arm and leg back to the starting position, and repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps (5-6 reps/arm & leg). Again, quality is more important here than is quantity, so if moving the arm and leg at the same time is too challenging, start by just moving the arms or just the legs before progressing to arms & legs at once.
3. The Side Bridge: Position yourself on your side, with your elbow bent and stacked underneath your shoulder, and your legs stacked on top of one another. Brace your core again, then push up with your arm to lift your hips off the ground. Your legs should be in a straight line with your spine once your hips are lifted off the ground. Again, you should be able to breathe while holding this position. Hold your side bridge position with hips off the ground for 8-10 seconds, then return down to the ground. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps. If holding for 8-10 seconds is too easy, the way to increase difficulty of this exercise is to increase the number of repetitions. Increasing the hold time is not beneficial to train these muscles. If performing the plank on the feet is too challenging, simply perform it from the knees instead.
4. The Dead Bug: This is not one of Dr. McGill's exercises, but is a personal favourite for core stability. Start laying on your back, with your knees and hips bent to 90 degrees, and arms reaching straight ahead. Brace your core (again you should be able to breathe here) and think of flattening your low back against the floor. Then, keeping your core braced straighten one leg, and the opposite arm above your head. Your low back should remain against the floor the entire exercise, your leg is too low if your low back curves off the floor. Take one breath in and out with the arm and leg extended, then return your arm and leg back to the starting position. Repeat with opposite arm and leg. If performing this with arms and legs moving at once is too difficult, start by just moving the arms or legs until mastered. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps total (5-6reps/arm).
There you have it! 4 of my personal faves when it comes to training the core and increasing core stability. Remember, when training the core quality is far more important than quantity.
Prior to starting any training program, it is a good idea to always check with your Chiropractor or health care provider to ensure it is safe.
Dr. Elaine Screaton (DC, BSc) is a Chiropractor in NW Calgary currently practicing at Synergea Family Health Centre in Calgary, AB.