Did you know that all movement originates from your core?
To say that a strong core is essential is an understatement. Yet, the legs, chest, and back tend to get all of the attention during conventional workouts.
If you want to improve your overall performance, keep yourself safe, and get attention when the shirt comes off, you need to focus on building core strength.
There is a common misunderstanding that core strength can only be built with weights and other equipment. Calisthenics or bodyweight exercises are equally as effective as weighted or heavy training – if not more so – for engaging the core muscles and increasing strength.
Here are the top 7 ways that your personal trainer can help you build core strength without equipment.
Which Muscles Make Up Your Core?
Despite popular belief, the term "core" does not refer exclusively to your abs. Your core is made up of several important muscle groups. We'll start with the foundation, move to the front, and work our way to the back of the core.
Pelvic Floor Muscles: Have you ever been on a date and needed to pass gas? The muscles you clench to prevent that from happening are your pelvic floor muscles. Form a bridge between your pelvic bone and tailbone. Your pelvic floor muscles form the foundation of your core musculature.
Rectus Abdominis: This is what most people think of when they hear the word "core". The front of your abdominals or your six-pack is just one part of a larger network of working core muscles. The abdominal muscle helps to protect internal organs and promote proper posture.
Transversus Abdominis: This is your deep abdominal muscles. The transversus abdominis is found beneath your abdominal muscle. They play a vital role in trunk rotation and core stability. They are tricky to activate properly, but I'll discuss how to do it below.
Internal and External Obliques: Next up, we have the sides of your core. If you feel the muscles along your ribs, you'll find your obliques. As the names suggest, external obliques are the first layer, and beneath that, you'll find your internal obliques. These muscles are very important for twisting and turning.
Multifidus: Similar to the transversus abdominis, the multifidus muscles are deep back muscles that help with rotation and stability of the spine.
Erector Spinae: Finally, we have the erector spine, which runs the entire length of your spine on both sides. It complements all of the other muscle groups, but it's especially helpful for posture and stability.
A progressive and comprehensive core strengthening exercise program should activate all of these muscles. Following the tips below will ensure that happens.
How to Build a Strong Core without Equipment
The two pillars of a strong core involve focusing on functional movement pattern principles and using the proper exercises. Combining these two ideas, here are my seven ways to build core strength without equipment.
#1 Breathe from the Belly
Take a quick note of how you're breathing. Do you notice that your chest rises more than your stomach?
Most people breathe from the chest, which does not support proper posture, and it can increase feelings of tension and anxiety.
Focus on breathing from your belly. It'll take some practice but think of your belly like a cup that you're filling with water. As you breathe in, you're pouring water into the cup, and cups filled from the bottom up.
You can also place your hand on your lower stomach and as you breathe in, try to push into your hand.
#2 Fix Your Posture
We're all guilty of it at some point. Whether you're looking down at your phone or jutting your arms forward while typing, from text neck to computer back, poor posture can wreak havoc on your core strength and stability.
Adopting a proper posture will significantly strengthen your core musculature and help to prevent shoulder, neck, and lower back pain.
Before you begin walking, make a mental note to do a body scan. Check for the following power posture points:
- Chest up
- Shoulders back
- Gaze straight ahead
- ·Abdominal muscles engaged
#3 One Side at a Time
Whether you're new to the gym or you've been exercising for years, you're probably most accustomed to using two hands and two legs for your workouts.
Studies show that performing unilateral training or one-sided exercises places a greater demand on the core, especially the obliques.
#4 Go Deep
Remember how we discussed your deep abdominal and back muscles above? Out of the common core exercises you're familiar with – crunches, sit-ups, etc. – which do you think activates these muscles?
None of them.
The fundamental exercises of core training are excellent for the exterior musculature – those muscles where you can see the results over time. But for the deeper muscles, you need to change up your routine. I highly recommend vacuums.
- Sit on a bench or chair with both feet flat on the floor.
- Take a deep breath in and immediately expel the air.
- Continue blowing out for a count of at least 10 seconds.
- ·As you blow out, contract your core muscles and suck in your stomach.
- Think about your belly button touching your spine.
- Hold this for as long as you safely and comfortably can. That is one repetition.
#5 Use Isometric Holds
If you think that all core exercises involve twisting, turning, and crunching, you're not alone. There is another way to train your core that requires creating your own internal tension and resistance by not moving at all. These are called isometric holds.
Planks are an ideal isometric hold exercise for the core. The best plank exercises that you can perform include:
- Traditional plank
- Side plank
- Superman Plank
#6 Do the Twist
There are three planes of motion. Most exercises take place in the sagittal plane (forward and backward) and frontal plane (side to side). The transverse plane (rotational movements) is often the most neglected, and yet, it's one of the most beneficial for strengthening your core.
Incorporate twisting movements into your core workout, including the following:
- Safe Russian twist
- Twisting plank
#7 Crawl like a Baby
Crawling is one of the oldest forms of exercise, and it's making a big comeback.