Top 5 exercises for a rock hard core
From planks and push-ups to pranayama breathing, the health and wellness experts at Nuriss list their top five exercises for a rock hard core.
Planks and push-ups
Think planks and push-ups are just for arm strength? Think again! If you’re doing these brilliant full-body exercises correctly, most of the work actually comes from the core, which is working to keep your body stable. To make sure you’re optimising the benefits of planks and push-ups, place your elbows or hands directly underneath your shoulders so that your arms are in a straight line, tighten your core muscles and keep your back straight. Your buttocks should be in line with your back, not pointing up or drooping down. If you don’t have the arm strength to do a set of push-ups yet, simply do a few rounds of planks on your hands or forearms and see how long you can hold them for.
Balancing is a fantastic option but is often forgotten about. Like planks and push-ups, it is your core that does basically all the work to keep you from falling over. Try these great yoga options:
Tree pose: First, make sure you are standing up straight and engaging your core by gently squeezing it, gazing at a still point on the ground or wall in front of you. Keep your shoulders back and down and slowly lift one leg, planting the foot either below or above the knee. Never rest your foot on the knee because too much pressure can damage the joint. Keep your core engaged the entire time so that your body isn’t bending to one side. Try to take five long, slow breaths in the pose and then repeat with the other leg.
Dancer’s pose: Lift one foot up to your buttocks and take hold of the ankle with your hand, engaging your core. Slowly lift the raised foot away from you as you gently tip your body forward, stretching out the core. This is great for back strength as well as core strength. Repeat with the other leg.
Reverse warrior: Start in warrior 2 pose, with one leg out in front, knee bent and the back leg straight. Line your feet up so that the heel of the front foot is in line with the middle of the back foot and straighten your arms out to either side. When you’re ready, engage your core and slowly bend the oblique muscles as you slide your arm down your back leg and lift your front arm up overhead. Swap your legs over and repeat on the other side. You will get a really good stretch in the oblique muscles in this pose, which is very important when you are focusing on strengthening them.
Warrior 3: This one takes a bit of time to work up to but when you are ready to advance, it is a fantastic core exercise. Start in a standing position and slowly lift one leg, reaching it backwards. Gently tip your body forward; keeping your core engaged the entire time. You can keep your arms by your side or shoot them forward. Try not to let your hips open to the side; you want to keep your body parallel to the ground. Repeat with the other leg.
Everyone knows the tradition crunch, where you lay down with your knees bent, feet planted on the floor, and lift your body up using your abs, but here are some variations to keep it a bit more interesting.
Twisted crunches: This is the same as the regular crunch but as you lift your body, twist it, reaching your elbow to the opposite knee, then repeat on the other side.
Bicycle kicks: Lay down flat and lift your shoulders and back, planting your forearms on the ground. Lift your legs and gently kick them in circles, one at a time, just like you’re peddling a bike! Make sure you don’t lock the knee when the leg is straight – there should always be a slight bend in it to protect the joint.
Boat crunches: This is a bit of a mix because it also involves balance. First you need to get used to boat pose. Start by sitting down with your knees bent, then place your hands underneath the knees and gently lift one leg off the ground, then the other. Make sure your core is tight and your back is straight. Shoulders should be back and down. If you feel stable in this position, you can slowly stretch your body out, lowering it towards the ground and hovering before lifting it back up to the starting position. Try to build up to rounds of 20, but don’t expect to be able to do that straight away!
The twisted crunch is a great exercise, which we’ve already mentioned, and can also add the Russian Twist to your routine. Start sitting with your knees bent and heels on the ground. Firm your core muscles so your back is straight and twist from the middle section to one side on an exhale, inhale coming back to the centre and exhale as you twist to the other side. You can use a ball as a weight to maximise this exercise. Again, try to work up to a few rounds of 20 over time.
Breathing works in two ways – there are actually exercises you can do with your breath to strengthen your core, but more importantly, learning how to breathe correctly during each exercise will ensure you make the most of your fitness routine and it will also give you a bit more stamina. Try these techniques:
Ujjayi breath: This is the foundation of yoga, because a flow of yoga asanas (postures) involves moving with the breath. Practice your ujjayi breathing before adding it into your exercises. Start by sitting cross-legged with a straight back. If you find this difficult, you can sit against a wall. Take long breaths and let your belly expand as you inhale through the nose, then slowly exhale all the air out, again through the nose, and you should feel the belly and abdominal muscles contract.
Breath of fire: This forceful exhale strengthens the transversus muscle in your abdomen, and is a fantastic way to warm up on a cold London morning. It involves taking in a long inhale, then forcefully pushing air out in quick, strong exhales using your abdomen. You can start with three rounds of 10. Don’t worry about the inhales – they will happen naturally – just concentrate on using your abs to force the exhales out.