The core is not limited to the 6-pack abs. When we’re talking about strengthening the core, it’s not just talking about doing crunches or a plank.
The core constitutes a group of muscle stabilizers and prime movers that support and stabilize your whole body.
The core encompasses the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, longissimus, diaphragm, quadratus lumborum, cervical spine muscles, latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and even the hip flexors.
As you can see… The core is much more than just your abdominals. And when you’re thinking of strengthening your core, you want to build strong and balanced muscles from your cervical spine all the way down to your hips.
Warning Signs Of A Weak Core
How about we get started first with breaking down some of the most common symptoms of weak core muscles. I’ll also explain (step-by-step) how to strengthen your inner core muscles so you can protect your back and eliminate lower back pressure and pain (1).
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.
First, here are the warning signs 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)
How to Strengthen A Weak Core
Create A Plan You Can Stick To:
I either schedule my core strengthening routines earlier in the morning or before my workouts in the afternoon. 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 currently go to the gym, start with the core activation exercises before your workouts. leave the “ab-focused” exercises until the end so you don’t fatigue your muscles. You want to activate not fatigue. The goal of activating your deep core is not to build or tone the abs…
It’s to activate and engage the spinal stabilizers so that when you’re moving to weight lifting, or other abdominal focused exercises, you feel supported. And you’re not compensating with your lower back. Does this make sense?
Keep the exercises low impact
every core strengthening routine needs to start with the easiest exercise. The exercises should still feel challenging but not to the point that you’re failing after 2-3 repetitions.
For example, a few repetitions of diaphragmatic breathing lying on the floor or standing is a great exercise to start with. Many people rush through the exercises just to get them done. That’s not the goal here. Focus on breathing deeply and connecting with your muscles. This will help you strengthen your mind-muscle connection.
Start with 3-4 exercises
There is no point in doing a lot of exercises at once. If you just focus on doing 3-4 with good form, you’ll be able to activate your deep core and keep it engaged.
Less is always more when it comes to activation exercises. Plus, if you do too many at once you won’t have an idea which exercises are working well for you. Focusing on fewer exercises and really mastering them will help you progress safely and see results faster.
Focus on Diaphragmatic Breathing first
You need to focus on deep belly breathing during every single core activation exercise.
Shallow breathing shuts down your core and is just…bad. The moment you focus on taking deep belly breaths you’ll feel calmer and more peaceful. Something to keep in mind if you have a stressful lifestyle. (It wouldn’t hurt to schedule 5 minutes here and there to check in with your body and take deep belly breaths)
Effective Exercises To Strengthen A Weak Core
Most people fail at exercise plans and diets because they complicate things. It’s hard to stick to something that’s not going to easily be integrated into your life (life is hard as it is. Keep things as simple as possible)
I will share with you an exercise video below. But please, keep the following in mind:
To add more challenge, either add more repetitions/sets or more intensity (not both): Once you feel comfortable with the core exercises you’ve picked, and only when they start to feel very easy…you can add challenge.
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 the 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). Here’s what I mean:
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.
If you’d like a done-for-you core workout plan, check out my program the Deep Core Mini-Training.
However, I have for you two routines to start with that’ll focus on activating your deep core muscles below:
Core Strengthening Routine
Core Strengthening Routine #2
I have another routine you can check out here: 7 exercises to activate the Transverse Abdominis muscle.
Oh, and don’t forget to also include the glutes (because remember…they’re part of the core too). Here is a post that includes 9 glutes strengthening exercises.
How To Maintain A Strong Core
Assessment: every 1-2 weeks, look at your exercise log and assess your strength level. Pain level is another way to assess if what you’ve been doing is working. It doesn’t have to be a huge change.
Small improvements and more pain-free hours/days 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 was designed to move.
The core, glutes, and hamstrings like to work together. Good posture is key to avoid building muscular imbalances, and proper stretching (when needed) is important to keep the muscle tissue healthy.
Strengthening 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.
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.
Hey! My name is Sofia and I’m here to help you eliminate lower back pain and piriformis syndrome without spending years in pain stuck in temporary fixes. Click here to learn more about me and how I can help you…