If you feel your core is weak and you’re doing a ton of crunches or planks, please stop until you’re done finishing this post. (and please don’t ever do another crunch again…they only work your artificial abdominal muscles)…
Before we even jump to talking about what core exercises to do, let me ask you first. How do you know you have a weak core?
So how about we get started first with breaking down some of the most common symptoms of weak core muscles. Then…I’ll explain to you (step-by-step) how to strengthen your inner core muscles so you can…
protect your lumbar spine, move without throwing your back out, and eliminate lower back pressure and pain.
This post will also answer some questions you’ve probably been asking yourself too (I know. The internet can be overwhelming sometimes).
- Which and how many core strengthening exercises should I start with?
- When should I do the core exercises and how many times/day/weak do I need to do be doing them.
- How long until I start seeing the effect of core strengthening?
Warning Signs Of A Weak Core
Your core (inner and outer) is the primary spine support system…
When your core muscles are weak and inactive, your spine and hip joints bear the load. And that’s not it.
Microtears occur in the discs whenever you bend or twist without activating your deep core muscles. So how do you avoid this:
You not only want to build strong core muscles to support your spine…
…but you also want to make sure they’re firing up automatically. (Without you having to consciously think about it every time you make a small micro move).
Sounds impossible? Well, it’s not. Just stick with me and I’ll show you how to accomplish this as fast as possible.
First…let’s go back to some symptoms of a weak core:
- Lower back pain when bending over.
- Back pain after lifting medium-heavy load items.
- Pain in the lower back after standing for more than 10 minutes (mainly in the lower back and hips).
- Difficulty breathing deeply when moving around or exercising (you can’t do both).
- When doing abs exercises, you’re feeling the burn more in your hips rather than your abs (your hip flexors are working harder than your core).
- When doing certain exercises (like the bridge or the plank) you’re feeling it more in your lower back and hamstrings.
- Sitting for more than 9 hours a day (almost everyone who has a desk job develops weak core muscles). Not asking you to quit your job. But you to be aware and balance this out with a proper core strengthening routine.
- Your back arches (and it’s difficult to keep your back flat) when you perform lying abdominal exercises.
- Lack of confidence at the gym when lifting weights (more of a mental symptom but still a strong valid one)
- Not feeling your deep core muscles when breathing deeply (not knowing diaphragmatic breathing is)
These are just a few common symptoms. Imagine how strengthening your core will help you with all of the above?
Before I share with you a core routine, I want to first discuss the step by step plan I promised to lay out here on how to strengthen your core. And answer those 3 questions I mentioned above…
You can either watch the video or scroll to read the summary of the video.
How to Strengthen a Weak Core (the step-by-step plan)
Part 1: When to Schedule The Core Strengthening Exercises
I either schedule a core strengthening workout earlier in the morning, or before my workouts. If you don’t like going to the gym, or find that sticking to an exercise program is hard, then wake up 15 minutes earlier to do your exercises, and get them out-of-the-way.
If you are currently going to a gym, you want to always start with some core activation exercises before your workouts, but you also want to avoid ab-focused exercises so you don’t fatigue your muscles too much. You want to activate not fatigue. If your outer core muscles are fatigued (visible abs), you will start compensating with other muscles to finish bigger compound movements.
PS: I have a 1-week, done-for-you plan inside the deep core mini-training you can check out after you’re done reading this post.
Part 2: How to Strengthen a Weak Core – What to focus on.
In order for you to build a strong core, the most important thing is for you to build a super simple plan you can stick to.
Most people fail at exercise plans and diets because they complicate things and it’s hard to stick to something that’s just hard to implement (change is hard as it is. Keep is super simple)
Here is how to keep is simple:
- Keep it low impact: every core strengthening routine needs to start with the easier exercise to perform. The exercises should still feel challenging but it should not feel tough to do. For example, a few repetitions of diaphragmatic breathing lying on the floor or standing is a good example. Low impact doesn’t mean too easy. Your core exercises need to be low impact so you can focus all your attention on the mind-muscle connection rather than on just finishing the exercise for the sake of finishing it. And they shouldn’t feel ‘dangerous’ to do. I hope you see what I mean (if not, leave me a comment below and I’ll explain a bit more).
Again…If you want a home core training plan, check out the deep core mini-training here.
- Focus on Diaphragmatic Breathing first: you need to focus on deep belly breathing during every single core exercise. Shallow breathing shuts down your core and you’ll quickly start compensating with your spine and joints. The moment you focus on deep belly breathing, you will start feeling your core expanding. I always feel like I have a natural belt around my spine when I do this.
- Start with 3-4 exercises: The key to core strengthening is to master the exercises, do them with good form, and assess your progress. If you start with a list of 10 exercises at once, you’ll quickly get overwhelmed…plus, you won’t have an idea which exercises are working well for you. Focusing on fewer exercises and really mastering them by focusing on good quality repetitions with proper form will help you progress safely and see results faster.
- To add challenge, add volume or intensity (not both): Once you feel comfortable with the core exercises you’ve picked, you’ll need to add some challenge to keep progressing. You can increase the number of repetitions (from 10 to 12 or 15), or add intensity by making the exercises a little harder. For example, you can move from a plank on the knees to a regular plank, or add a resistance band to the bridge exercise.
Bonus tip: Another way to make any exercise more challenging is to slow down the repetitions. (on the eccentric part of the contraction).
Say you’re doing a leg lift, count to 3 to get your way up, then to 6 on the way down. Slowing down the repetitions can be very challenging, so use that carefully especially with this specific example…
If your core isn’t fully developed, you’ll quickly start arching your back on the way down. You want to keep your back neutral and as flat as possible on this particular exercise.
- Assessment: every 1-2 weeks, look at your exercise log, and assess: See if your strength has increased and if you’re experiencing less pain than before. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, but small improvements add up and compound to bigger long-lasting changes in your body.
- Muscle Integration: As I mentioned before, we cannot isolate the body and expect to have a whole functioning unit. We always work with how the body likes to move. The core, glutes, and hamstrings like to work together. Good posture is key to staying away from muscle imbalances resulting from our sedentary lifestyle, and proper stretching is also needed to keep tissue healthy. Strengthening should target all important muscles groups AND should work hand in hand with other recovery and maintenance tools like postural therapy, foam rolling and stretching.
If you follow these simple steps, you’ll notice massive changes with just a few exercises. But you need the right exercises that are specific to activating the deep core.
Strengthen Your Weak Core With Exercises
I will now link to a deep core routine you can start with. But please, don’t do EVERYTHING. The video demonstrates the exercises but it’s up to you to pick how many you’re comfortable with. Stay within the 2-4 exercise range and follow the instructions above to add intensity when you’re ready.
Don’t want to do the work yourself? … Grab the deep core training and start strengthening your deep core today. I’ll show you how to automatically fire up your core and I’ve also created a done-for-you 1-week exercise plan. No work needed on your part, just show up and follow along. you can read more about the program and read the reviews here.