Alternative Exercises To Strengthen Your Core
Why Yoga and Pilates are Great for Core Strength
While for many having six-pack abs defines their core strength. And while having a well-defined “pack” does make you look (and feel) good, having true core strength exudes many other fitness benefits.
The core consists of many other muscle groups other than the abs that form the six-pack. Pelvic muscles, mid and lower back, hip muscles, obliques and the muscles running on each side of your spine (erector spinae) are just a few of the larger muscle group that define your core.
Besides making you feel good, what other health benefits can be derived from having a strong core? Studies show it improves balance, posture, reduces back pain, makes breathing and everyday tasks easier, to name a few.
While there are specific exercises that will make your core stronger, yoga and Pilates are also great for building core strength. But to know how they build core strength, let’s first look at each one independently.
Besides meditation and breathing control, yoga also uses certain physical movements called asanas to build flexibility, balance and strength. You’ll see Sun salutations, bends, twists and inversions in almost every yoga class. Most routines work from seated to standing poses so every core muscle gets worked.
This form of exercise uses movements that focus on strengthening the torso. Because both sides of the body are used equally, dominant muscles get a break while the weaker muscles are forced to do more work. The result is an evenly balanced core.
With one of the six principles of Pilates being “centering”, the exercises build the muscles supporting the core including the abs, buttocks, pelvis and back.
Bringing the Two Together
Both exercise principles involve using exercises that fully support the back by lying prone, on the back or on the side through the use of bodyweight. This keeps the spine in the neutral position. However Pilates does differ from yoga in that also uses resistance and weights in some of its exercises to build strength and physical conditioning.
Both exercise types focus on the present and the journey of the movement rather than the end goal. Doing the movement correct is of paramount importance.
Both yoga and Pilates use breathing techniques in their routines, however, the techniques differ. But in the end, both are important components to each discipline.
If you are currently using a core routine or are looking at starting a core strength training program, see if yoga and Pilates can help you achieve your goals.
Water-Based Workout Ideas for Strengthening Your Core
Working out in a pool makes sense for several reasons. The buoyant quality of water means little to no stress on your joints, ligaments and back. Many traditional exercises cause repetitive pounding motions, and gravity is consistently making your job more difficult out of the pool as well.
These exercise negatives don’t happen when you work out in a pool or some other body of water.
That means if you are working your core, your backyard pool or the neighborhood swimming hole is the perfect place to be. In the summer you can beat the heat, and in the winter an indoor pool means a warm and enjoyable workout while it’s frosty outside. Water-based exercising also lets you literally “dive into” your workout.
Practice Some Poolates
Poolates takes the core strengthening movements of Pilates and gets them soaking wet. Poolates expert Michelle Martin points out that your abdominal and lower back muscles are continuously worked by the motion of the water fighting against you as you move. The fact that water is 12 times more resistant than air on humans means that just a few minutes of Poolates can deliver the results of an hour of Pilates. (A YouTube search for Poolates reveals plenty of moves you can try.)
The Mayo Clinic recommends water training for increased resistance and reduced pressure on your limbs and joints. The K-Tread was designed as a water workout that quickly stresses your core muscles, especially your obliques and abdominals. Get in over your head and begin to tread water. Lift your leg towards the surface of the water while you are treading. Do not bend at the knee. Alternate legs and hold this position for 30 seconds each repetition.
How About Aqua Karate?
Stand in water that comes up to your chest. Make sure you have stable footing. By performing underwater kickboxing and karate moves with your hands and legs, your stomach, back and the rest of your core muscles get a serious workout. Ask your local health club about Aqua Combat classes in your area if you would like some hands-on instruction.
Work Your Abs With a Kickboard
This is a great water-based exercise that employs a swimming board or kickboard. Standing in water up to your chest. Lower a kickboard into the water in front of you, in a perpendicular position. While keeping your legs straight and motionless, rotate your upper body to the left and the right, keeping the kickboard underwater. This is an excellent exercise for strengthening your core while developing that six pack abs look.
How Chi Walking Helps to Strengthen Your Core and Boost Your Fitness
There is nothing like a little Chi walking to strengthen your core. It also boosts your endurance and improves your level of physical fitness. If you are a runner, Chi walking is a great way to help you trump your personal best running distance and time. It is also easier on your body than traditional walking, and involves multiple muscle groups.
What is Chi Walking?
Do you remember how you walked as a child? Watch children walking to get an idea of exactly what Chi walking is all about. Years of poor lifestyle habits and less physical activity than when we were young has led many of us to less than ideal walking movements.
When children walk, they tend to lean forward, allowing gravity to power them along. Adults typically walk with their hips forward, propelling them along with their legs. This puts a lot of pressure on your leg muscles, and if you walk long distances this way, injury and pain often accompany your jaunt.
Chi walking, just like any other form of walking, involves your legs. But you don’t have to rely on them for all of your power. Traditional walking means pushing off of your toes. This can lead to all kinds of injuries and soreness, from shin splints to sore calves and even plantar fasciitis. Chi walking, on the other hand, puts an emphasis on loose joints, good posture and engaging your core muscles.
You also mentally focus on relaxing your arms and legs. This minimizes the negative impact that walking has on your joints and limbs.
How to Chi Walk
Begin by standing up straight, with your feet shoulder width apart. Your toes should be pointing directly forward. Imagine your body as straight as a ruler, perfectly vertical from your heels to your head. Contract your lower abs, imagining your spine pulling your belly button towards it.
Begin walking by slightly leaning forward. You want to lead with your upper body, so that you have to move your feet to keep yourself from falling over. Don’t tilt dramatically, just enough to move your shoulders forward over your hips. Pump your arms and body only in the direction you are walking. You want to minimize side to side and up and down movement as much as possible.
You want to keep this forward tilt, while trying not to let your head dip. Your forearms and upper arms should make a 90 degree angle. Swing your arms backwards and forwards like a pendulum. This creates propulsion power, along with the tilt of your body. Make sure your hands don’t go any further backwards than beside your body.
This is how Chi walking places less pressure on your legs to perform your walking motion. You also want to shorten your forward stride and lengthen your backward reach. This is great for minimizing the strain on your knees, shins and caps. Try not to make the classic heel-to-toe step. Plant your feet firmly and flatly on the ground.
When you exhale, force air out of your mouth from your lungs, as if you are blowing out a candle on a birthday cake. Inhale through your nose, and keep your belly flat and compressed. That is all there is to Chi walking, a little-known core strengthening exercise that anyone can do, at any age or level of fitness.