What is the most important muscle group in your body? If you said the muscular core, centered in your abdomen and trunk, then you would agree with many fitness experts. The muscles that make up the “core” are basically what supports our body when we walk or do any physical activity. If we want to be able to do what we want to, physically, and avoid injury, a strong core is essential.
The core muscles
The core is centered at the abdomen but extends from the shoulder area to the hips. It includes the many different abdominal muscles and more. The other muscles include the muscles of the shoulder, the back and along the spine, the pelvis and the hips.
For many years the best way to strengthen the core was thought to be sit-ups, then modified sit-ups, then crunches. But they all cause strain on your lower back and neck, and don’t work all the core muscles. Now, this newer exercise—the plank—is considered the absolute single best core exercise.
Before we describe the plank, here is one quick way you can strengthen your core anytime, even while walking, sitting, or driving:
Hold your deep abdominal muscles tight for one minute. That’s all. Do it a few times a day. To know if you are doing it correctly, you should be able to carry on a conversation while holding your abdominal muscles tight.
The plank (on elbows)
You may have bad memories of doing pushups when you were younger, but the plank is not a pushup, yet you start in that position. Lay face down on a mat or clean surface and put your elbows next to your shoulders. Elevate your body into the pushup position with your lower body supported by your toes, and your upper body supported by your elbows, bent at 90 degrees. You should be looking at the floor (a timer there helps).
Tighten your abdominal muscles, breath slowly and keep your hips up. Your body should be in a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Have someone check your position or check in the mirror. Hold this position for at least 10 seconds, and, after a 1 minute break, repeat 2 more times. Try building up to 30 seconds, then a minute. (It can be a good time to do a brief meditation while holding your position.) Do this preferably three times a week, mixed in with your other exercises.
The alternative plank (on hands)
You can also do the plank with your upper body supported on your hands. This will be easier or harder depending on your upper body strength. Both ways are good, but the first method, using your elbows, likely gives your core a better workout. Consider doing it both ways!
After you can hold your position for a minute, you can modify the basic position, to give even more muscular benefits. Some will help further define your abdominal muscles, such as using only one arm and/or leg for support, side planks, or using a BOSU. Best to mix a variety of methods!
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