Strong core muscles functions as body stabilizers that help you accomplish daily activities. It is important that you train the right way. This article provides you some tips about core muscle training.

Core muscle function

Before going into exercise, you should know about core muscle basics. The figure below shows the difference between core muscles and abdominal muscles.

Core muscles are about “keeping the body still”, thus trunk movement should be avoided during core muscle exercise.

There are some facts you should know before starting your exercise routine:

Core muscles and abs contract synergistically during exercise. By exercising in specific positions, you can control the proportions of muscle groups you desire to train.

Abdominal breathing and Kegel exercise are highly recommended for beginners, due to the high proportion of core activation in these exercises.

To know more about core muscle anatomy and how weak core muscles relate to chronic pain, you can check out the article core muscles versus chronic pain.

Precautions during core muscle exercises

  1. Maintain smooth breathing, try not to hold your breath.
  2. Be careful of movement compensations, such as neck flexion or clenching your fist.
  3. Keep the trunk steady during exercise.
  4. Do small repetitions in sets, to prevent fatigue and distraction.
  5. Increase or decrease the base of support to adjust exercise level.

Core muscle exercises

Core muscles comprise of four muscle groups: diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominus and multifidus. The exercises below include training of these four muscles.

Abdominal breathing- diaphragm activation

This exercise is beneficial for those with chest tightness.

|Basic level|

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent, place your hands on the stomach.
  2. Inhale to let the air into your stomach, feel the bulking of the stomach.
  3. Exhale to let the air all out.

|Advanced level|

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent, put some weight on your stomach (2–3 kg).
  2. Inhale to let the air into your stomach, push the weight up with the inflated stomach.
  3. Exhale to let the air all out.

Avoid shrugging your shoulders during this exercise.

Kegel exercise — pelvic floor muscle training

This exercise is beneficial for those with incontinence.

|Basic level|

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent, put your hands beside you.
  2. Exhale and simultaneously contract the sphincter muscles of your pelvic floor.
  3. Inhale and relax your sphincter muscles.

|Advanced level|

  1. Lie flat on your back with knees bent 90 degrees in the air.
  2. Place your legs shoulder width apart.
  3. Maintain your low back on the floor.
  4. Exhale and simultaneously contract the sphincter muscles of your pelvic floor.
  5. Inhale and relax your sphincter muscles.

Avoid over-contracting your thigh muscles during this exercise.

Sit marching — transverse abdominus/ internus oblique activation

This exercise is specially designed to train your lumbar and pelvic stability.

|Basic level|

  1. Sit straight on a stable chair, put both hands on your lap.
  2. March on the spot, maintain your trunk in an upright position.

|Advanced level|

  1. Sit straight on a yoga ball, put both hands on your lap.
  2. March on the spot, maintain your trunk in an upright position.

Be sure to avoid slouching posture during the exercise.

Dead bug exercise — transverse abdominus/ internus oblique training

The exercise is for those with lumbago.

|Basic level|

  1. Lie flat on your back and put your hands beside you.
  2. Place your legs shoulder width apart.
  3. Breath normally and reciprocally tap your toes on the ground.

|Advanced level|

  1. Lie flat on your back and put your hands beside you.
  2. Place your legs shoulder width apart.
  3. Breath normally and reciprocally straighten your knees toward the celling.

Be sure to maintain your body steady and back flat on the ground during the exercise!

Bird dog exercise — multifidus muscle training

The exercise is for those with slouched posture.

|Basic level|

  1. Place on all fours with knees and ankle shoulder width apart.
  2. Breath normally and reciprocally raise your legs to shoulder height.

|Advanced level|

  1. Place on all fours with knees and ankle shoulder width apart.
  2. Breath normally and reciprocally raise your right leg and left arm to shoulder height.
  3. Change sides.

Keep your body still during the exercise.

You can add on weight or use elastic bands to increase resistance.

If you have chronic pain or spine problems, please seek professional help for exercise modification.

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Reference:

Escamilla RF., Lewis BD., Bramblet G., Daffron J., Lambert S., Andrews JR. 2010. Core Muscle Activation During Swiss Ball and Traditional Abdominal Exercises. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 40(5), 265–76.

Pereira LR., Queiroz B., Loss J., Amorim C., Sacco CN. 2017. Trunk Muscle EMG During Intermediate Pilates Mat Exercises in Beginner Healthy and Chronic Low Back Pain Individuals. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 40(5), 350–57.

Kim CR., Park DK., Lee ST., Ryu, JS. 2016. Electromyographic Changes in Trunk Muscles During Graded Lumbar Stabilization Exercises. PM&R, 8(10), 979–89.

物理治療師 女性運動與姿勢矯正 physiotherapist, MS, CES