Getting flat abs and sharpening up the midsection is a goal for many of my clients. One of the main benefits, however, is not about that classic six-pack—it's about strengthening your core so you can strengthen your back and overall posture. As someone who's been active for most of my life, I can tell you firsthand what it's like to not feel strong or connected to my core.
I grew up as a dancer and learned to engage and utilize my core strength from a very early age. However, as life got busier, travel ensued, work picked up, and soon enough I was no longer getting enough time to work with my body.
After lots of ups and downs with my weight and tremendous back pain from traveling, sitting at a desk, and driving long hours, I finally had enough. That's when I realized skipping my bodywork each week was no longer an option. Imagine if you were to skip work every week and simply not show up day after day—there would be consequences. Your body is the same way. It needs you to show up so it can help you thrive.
These five easy steps can be a great add-on to any activity to strengthen the core from all angles. You can also use them if you have just a few minutes and you want to do something for you. It does make a difference in your body's health. As a side note, I've also used these exercises when I've been working through my own back and neck pain. Just take it slow, feel your body, and listen to its feedback.
Come on to all fours with your knees underneath your hips and your hands underneath your shoulders. Gently lift your leg up, bring your knee toward your seat, and point your toe. Pulling the knee toward your chest, underneath the rib cage, using the core. Keeping the abs engaged, lift it back up to hip height. Repeat 10 times. Then begin pulling the knee toward the left elbow and back up to hip height. Repeat 10 times. Go slowly with each move and engage the abs the entire time while breathing. Inhale to lift the leg; exhale to pull it into your chest or opposite elbow. Switch legs and repeat the series.
2. Plank pose
Stay on all fours, but now come on to your toes so your arms and legs are long. Squeeze your thigh muscles to keep your legs long and your heels pressing back. Use the strength of your core and engage your arm muscles. Hold a full plank pose for 30 seconds. Then lower down halfway to engage the triceps and try to press back up to a straight arm plank. Try this five times. Rest. Then repeat the entire exercise.
3. Core thigh
Come on to your knees. Measure a fist's distance between the knees. Bring your arms out in front of you. Engage your core and thigh muscles, then lift your hips just a few inches off the heels and lean back slightly to engage the core and quadriceps. Slowly lower the seat back to the heels, barely touching the heels and lift the seat right back up, using the thigh and core muscles. Do 20 repetitions. Rest. Repeat.
4. Long bicycle
Come down to your back, legs long and toes pointed. Gently come up onto your elbows, keeping them close to your sides, lengthen your spine, and pull your shoulders away from your ears. Keep your legs straight and lift your right leg straight toward the sky and then hover the left leg 2 to 3 inches off the ground. Once you are in the starting position, engage your core and lengthen your tailbone. Be sure to keep your shoulders relaxed. Slowly switch legs with your core strength, keeping the legs long and straight, three long seconds between each switch. Try this 10 times (full expression of the right leg and then left leg). Rest. Repeat. (If this is too much on your lower back, you can modify by keeping one foot on the floor and lifting one leg at a time and repeating on the opposite side).
Lie all the way down and stretch your arms and legs long. Take a deep breath in and with five slow counts, lift everything up to the ceiling. Lengthen your legs, your spine, using the core to hold the posture. Then slowly, with five counts again, lower everything back down. Repeat 5 to 10 times. Rest. Repeat again. (If you need to modify this pose, you can always bend the knees as you lift up and lower down and place the hands behind the knees for more support.)