Here we dispel some myths and reveal some truths about core exercise. We also provide you with some excellent free routines.
However, improving the functional strength of your midsection is not only about improving how you look and how you feel. Improving the functional strength of your midsection is also your best insurance against lower back pain.
Warming up your midsection correctly is an excellent way of warming up for both fitness and strength exercise. On the Core Strength Exercise page we list the myths about midsection exercise as well as the difference between core exercise and other types of exercise. You will find the link to that page listed at the bottom of this page.
We use 'core exercise' here to refer to exercise that primarily targets the rectus abdominis, the transverse abdominis, and the internal and external obliques.
So, let's find out more.
The frequency of your exercise
If you are a beginner, you may work your midsection daily.
If you are an intermediate or advanced trainee, we suggest training your midsection at least twice a week and not more than four times a week.
It makes no difference what time of day you prefer to train your midsection.
Since consistency is critical, simply pick a time that works best for you.
If you are combining your midsection routine with either fitness exercise or other strength exercise, always do your midsection routine last.
Let's warm up for your exercise routine
Never do any kind of exercise routine without warming up.
If you are doing your midsection routine after either fitness or other strength exercise, you will already be sufficiently warmed up for your midsection work.
What if you are doing your midsection routine separately? A good warm-up for this type of exercise has three parts:
(1) Begin with about 5 minutes of cardiovascular activity using a stationary bike or an elliptical machine. Alternatively, do some brisk walking on a treadmill. Although it is not necessary to break a sweat, please do get your heart rate up.
(2) Then warm up your spinal column. Work it to both sides as well as forward and backward.
For example, here are two ways to work it to both sides:
a. Stand up with your feet about shoulder width apart. Hold both arms straight out to the sides at shoulder height; they should form a straight line as if tied at the wrists and elbows to a broomstick. Keep your knees relaxed and slightly flexed.
While keeping your hips facing to the front, twist to the right so that your left arm is pointing towards the front and your right arm is pointing back while your head turns to the right (so that you are able to look at your right hand as the arm pulls back). Exhale as you twist.
Inhale as you now twist to the left so that you wind up with your right arm pointing towards the front and your left arm is pointing back. Your head will turn to the left as you twist. Remember to keep your hips squarely facing to the front.
Exhale as you then twist back to the right. Repeat several times.
b. Sit on a chair or a Swiss ball. With your breathing and arms as described in the previous stretch, twist your pelvis to the right and then back to the left. Repeat several times.
To warm up your spinal column to the front and back, sit on a chair or a Swiss ball. Bend your torso down to your thighs and sit back up. Repeat several times.
Alternatively, if you are an intermediate or advanced trainee, simply do 10 or 20 back raises on a back raise machine. Hold each rep at the top for a count of two.
(3) Finally, stretch your hip flexors.
How? A good stretching guide will describe how.
The reason to stretch your hip flexors is that overdeveloped or tight hip flexors (iliopsoas) will tend to cause your pelvis to tilt forward. By stretching them, you'll reduce this pelvic tilt, which will also decrease your chances of lower back pain.
Your performance is important
Once you are warmed up, you are ready to perform your exercise routine.
Ensure that you understand proper exercise technique for each exercise before you begin. Perform each exercise exactly as it should be performed.
Never use momentum. The tempo or speed at which you perform each exercise should be smooth and controlled. Never perform reps jerkily or rapidly.
Always maintain good posture.
Keeping the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth on the roof of your mouth will help to keep your neck in alignment. Keep your stomach tucked in and your hips square.
The first rule of exercising is to avoid hurting yourself. For example, your core exercise routine should be performed on an uncluttered, clean, non-slip surface. You should have plenty of space to move.
Especially if you are older and have a problem balancing, ensure that you don't lose your balance by holding something such as an upright on a power rack or a stout dowel rod.
If you don't feel well, if you feel tired or faint, postpone exercising.
Wear clothing that doesn't restrict your movement; for example, don't wear blue jeans.
Do not use a weight lifting belt when performing your core exercise routine.
Never train to failure when performing your exercise routine.
Core exercise related pages to help you further
Once you understand how to exercise safely and are properly warmed-up, you are ready to select the exercises for your routine. See the links listed below.