If you’re looking to work on your core, but are sick and tired of crunches, I’m here to give you permission to toss the crunches out the window. If I’m being honest, crunches aren’t the most effective core exercise. Why? Because crunches really focus on targeting one of the MANY muscles that make up the core.
If you want to build a strong and stable core, you need to be doing exercises that target the core on a whole. In this blog post I’m going to show you my 4 favorite core exercises to build a strong and stable core that ARE NOT CRUNCHES! But first, let’s talk about what muscles make up the core so we can understand what we’re doing in these poses:
Your core is made up of
- The transverse abdominus (TA)
- Erector Spinae
- Pelvic Floor
- Rectus Abdominus
Here are some images of where all these muscles live inside our core:
Your rectus abdominis is the part of the core that everyone thinks of when they think of “abs.” It helps with posture, and is in charge of flexing your spine – so that’s why movements like crunches mainly target your RA. Your RA is also an important part of your core for bracing – so think of how your stomach feels in a plank pose – it helps you keep your spine straight and stable when doing something like a pushup – or a chaturanga!
Your TA is the part of your core that you want working most while MOVEMENT starts to happen. It helps with stability and control the movement of your lower spine. It’s also connected to a healthy pelvic floor, so if you’ve ever had children, the TA is an important part of the core to focus on after child birth.
Your Obliques are in charge of twists and side bends. They’re on the side of your core, and if you’ve ever seen a boxer, you’ve seen their obliques bulging out because of all of the twisting that happens in boxing.
Your Diaphragm is what helps you breathe. I think often people don’t realize that this is a huge part of your core. If you’ve ever lifted heavy weights, you know that your diaphragmatic breathing is a HUGE component of being able to lift heavy. Why? Because it helps connect the muscles between your pelvic floor and diaphragm to work in unison to support and stabilize your spine. As you inhale with your diaphragm, it pushes into the pelvic floor. Your exhale lifts the pelvic floor up. This is al little confusing, but here’s a good visual which should help:
Your multifidus and erector spinae live along your spine and helps with stability and posture. That’s right – your core is not just your front! It’s also your back! So if you think of how your body feels in a warrior 3 – if you can find your back part of your core it will help you stabilize the whole pose. No more rounded shoulders or rounded spine – finding these back muscles will help you balance in a pose like this.
SO what are better exercises for core strength than a crunch? I WILL TELL YOU! These are my top 4 exercises for core strength and stability because in general, they target the entire core.
When done correctly, this is gonna hit literally all the muscles described above. Even the diaphragm! You need to find that bracing action in your core to keep your spine neutral and strong but you also need to breathe – that’s where the diaphragmatic breathing comes into play.
There are 2 other tricks to making sure you get the most bang for your buck out of this pose:
- Make sure to keep your hips even with your shoulders – hips aren’t too high like a down dog, and you’re not dropping your hips like a backbend
- Press the floor away from you with your forearms so that you don’t dump into your shoulders.
- Squeeze your glutes – this will create 3 zones of stability in your body – your glutes, core, and shoulders – and that will make it feel easier. Not easy – but easier. If you haven’t read my blog post about these three zones of stability click here to read it.
If this is really hard for you try widening your feet to wider than your hips. That wider base is going to make the pose a little bit more accessible.
This is a great place to try to work on TA activation. Think of pulling your belly button down towards the ground as if you’re sucking in your stomach, and then drag it up towards your rib cage. There will be a kind of hollowing out in your belly and strong deep activation in your core. Your TA lives behind your RA (those 6 pack abs) so it should feel very internal.
Once you can do this WITHOUT movement, you can play with adding movement in. Lift one heel and then the other – if that goes well lift the whole foot – and then if that goes well and you can keep the TA activation, move one leg forwards and one arm back at the same time while keeping that pulling in and up in the belly button.
Forearm Side Plank Lifts
Like a forearm plank, these will target your whole core, but they’re really going to get your obliques. Make sure to press through the floor with your forearms so you don’t dump into your shoulder. Keep your hips up to start, and then lower them to the ground and back up again. Do this slow and with control – no plopping to the ground.
If this is tough for you, give it a try with your knees down like I do on my second side. You’ll still feel your core, you’ll still get to your obliques, but you’ll be able to build the strength and control to prepare you for doing it with your knees lifted eventually.
SALAMBASANA – LOCUST POSE
This one targets mainly that back body part of your core. Those erectors and multifidus muscles are in charge of backbending, but also work for stabilizing and good posture. Here are the things you need to really focus on to get the most out of this pose:
- Take your tailbone towards the ground so your glutes (butt) engage
- Think of reaching the crown of your head forwards and making space between each vertebrae as you lift.
- I find that pointing my feet helps me find that extension and reach of the spine a bit more, but play around with this and see if it works for you too.
- Make sure you’re not lifting with your neck here – we experience the world through our eyes, so often our head does a movement and it makes us think that the rest of our body is doing that movement. Try to let your head and neck lift in the same way that the rest of your spine is lifting – a nice gradual curve to the spine – no jagged edges or neck cranking!
The core is actually a pretty tough subject so if you have any questions please feel free to drop me a comment or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!
Till next time,