Nothing looks better, on a beach, than a well-toned set of abdominals – or a six pack if you prefer. Many would turn around and say that a person who has a good six pack has a strong core. However, if this is true it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she has a strong core. Here’s why.
Six pack vs strong core
What is a ‘six pack’?
Your abdomen is made up of a number of muscles. These are:
- Transversus abdominis
- Rectus abdominis
- External obliques
- Internal obliques
It is the rectus abdominis, says fitness veteran Andrea Cespedes, which plays an integral part in the formation of a six pack:
“In every person, a strong tendon separates the right and left sides of the rectus abdominis and three tendon creases segment it horizontally. When you’re lean enough to have these separations show, you’re said to have six-pack abs.”
What does it mean to have a strong core?
Contrary to popular belief, having a six pack – or a flat-looking stomach – doesn’t mean that you necessarily have a strong core. Having a strong core means that all of your abdominal muscles – in other words your external obliques, internal obliques, transversus abdominus IN ADDITION TO your rectus abdominis – are super strong.
Exercises to strengthen your core
Pilates is a great way for you to strengthen your core. (Our recommendation is that if you want to embark on your Pilates journey, you need to choose a teacher who has a certificate in teaching Pilates from Trifocus Fitness Academy. To find out more about this dynamic Pilates teacher-training course, follow this link.) There are a number of exercises that we recommend you start with before you progress to more advanced moves.
This is a foundational Pilates exercise which helps the student to coordinate their breath and gives their abdominal muscles a great workout. Blood circulation is also improved greatly with this exercise.
How to do it
Lie on your back on the mat. Put your legs into table top with your feet flexed. Your arms must be extended on the mat with your palms facing down.
Inhale to prepare and as you exhale lift your head and shoulders off the mat as well as your arms so that they are level with your shoulders. Extend your legs as low as possible while keeping your lumbar spine in neutral. (If you feel any tension in your neck, rest your head on a pillow.)
For five counts pulse your arms vertically in time with your breath as you inhale. Repeat this action as you exhale. Repeat for 10 sets of 10 pulses.
Single leg stretch
Lie on your back on a mat. Your legs must be in table top. Rest your hands on either side of your knees and lift your head off the mat. Lift your upper body up towards your breast bone. (As with the hundred, if you find that keeping your head lifted off the floor is too painful, rest your head on a pillow.)
Inhale to prepare and as you exhale, keep your abdominals contracted and extend your right leg forward. Rest your hands on your left knee. Inhale and switch legs. Repeat the movement as many times as you need to.
Single leg circles
As with the previous two exercises lie on your back, on a mat. Your arms must be extended at your sides with the palms of your hands facing downwards. Ensure that your neck and head are in a neutral position.
Inhale, bend one of your legs and gently extend it straight up towards the ceiling. Exhale and circle it over the centre of your body. While you are doing this ensure that your hips don’t rock and you maintain your abdominal contraction. Circle this leg in one direction for five counts and then reverse the motion for five counts. Bend this leg and return to your starting position. Repeat with the other leg.
Benefits of strong core muscles
A strong core helps with balance
Balance is not just important for acrobats to have. Everyone needs a good sense of balance to assist them in their everyday functioning. Fitness and health coach, Chris Freytag, explains more:
“Kinesthetic awareness, or the ability to know where your body parts are in three-dimensional space, is required for every movement we make. So it’s not surprising that balance can be learned, challenged, and improved.
A well-trained core helps in alleviating lower back pain and improving posture
It’s been proven that people who don’t have a strong core are more at risk for lower back pain and/or poor posture. Why? Because if a person’s abdominal muscles are not strong they could end up straining their lower back because the core is not functioning to keep the person upright. Hence the lower back ends up doing most of the work. Poor posture will result because the person will end up with a rounded back because their core muscles are not playing their part in keeping the person upright.
A great Pilates exercise to do that will strengthen your lower back is the Basic Mat Pelvic Lift. This is how you perform this exercise:
- Lie on your back. Make sure that your arms are relaxed on either side of your body. The palms of your hands must be facing down. Your legs must be bent with the feet facing forwards.
- Inhale to prepare and connect your abdominals.
- As you exhale, pull into your abdominal muscles and slowly lift your torso off the mat one vertebra at a time. When you reach the pinnacle of the exercise, squeeze your glutes.
- Inhale and hold the pose.
- Exhale and slowly return your torso to the mat and feel each vertebra articulate onto the mat.
To watch a demonstration of this exercise, follow this link.
Good core strength can help you reach your fitness goals
In every single type of exercise – be it weight-lifting, spinning or water aerobics – core strength is vital as it helps you maintain the correct form. For example, in spinning when you perform running sprints out of the saddle a strong core helps you keep a good posture and get the most out of the exercise. If you didn’t have the benefit of a strong core, there is a very good chance that you could injure yourself badly.
If you want to take your Pilates practice further and teach others how to perform these very beneficial exercises, why don’t you sign up for Trifocus Fitness Academy’s Pilates course. Armed with this qualification, you’ll be able to take your career in fitness to new heights.