“Core training” is one of the most overused terms in fitness. But while it can get annoying to see it everywhere, there’s a reason: developing a strong core is essential to peak performance, preventing injury and moving more efficiently.
So what are we talking about when we say “core?” Essentially, it’s the combination of muscles that make up the trunk and help the body maintain stabilization when stationary and during movement. One key thing to remember: the core is a lot more than just the abdominal muscles that traditional (and often inadequate) exercises like crunches and sit-ups target.
In this Paddle Healthy article and the next, we’ll look at two categories of core exercises that can help you improve your paddling, off water workouts, and even seated and standing posture. This week it’s stabilization work, and next week we’ll hit movements that will challenge your core to move in all directions while maintaining safe, functional alignment – just like on your board.
During all the exercises below, contract your abs and glutes (fancy name for butt muscles) to protect your back, and remember to breathe (you’d be amazed how many people stop breathing during these exercises). Start with three sets of 30 seconds (on each side for the side plank and warrior pose) for each exercise, three times a week. If it’s too easy, add more time or repetitions until you feel challenged, but are still able to maintain proper form. —Phil White
Justifiably the classic exercise, the plank challenges your entire core to maintain a straight-line position.
How to do it: Balance on your forearms and toes with your body parallel to the floor. Keep looking at the floor.
Form tip: As soon as your hips dip down you’re done. Holding any longer will encourage risky overextension in the lower back.
Make it harder: Experiment by lifting one arm or leg off the floor, and progress to the 2-point plank, in which you just keep your right arm and left foot on the floor (and vice versa). Also move your hands further away from the typical position – out in front of you and/or our to the sides.
Many people make the mistake of only focusing on core exercises from the front and back. But to maintain trunk stability – particularly during rotational movements like paddling – you need to include exercises that also target the obliques and the muscles on the outside of your hips and shoulders. Enter the side plank.
How to do it: Lying on the floor, turn so your weight is on your left forearm and the outside of your left foot. Push your hip up until you’re forming a straight line.
Form tip: Line up your heel and elbow so your weight is evenly distributed.
Make it harder: Instead of resting on your forearm, externally rotate your hand (to make sure the shoulder is in a stable position) and balance on it with your arm fully extended. Be sure to keep your hip up so there’s a straight line down the side of your body, from the outside of your foot to your shoulder. To take it to another level, lift up the arm and leg you’re not balancing on, so you look like a starfish (in a good way).
HOLLOW BODY HOLD
You know how gymnasts can do all the crazy stuff on rings, bars and other equipment without falling over like most of us would? They have super strong cores. The hollow hold is one of the foundational core exercises they start with.
How to do it: Lie on your back. Keeping your feet together, stick your legs up. Then slowly lower them until your heels are a couple of inches off the ground. At the same time, put both arms behind your head until they’re just behind your ears. Clench your glutes and abs to keep your lower back stable (same goes for all these exercises) and hold the position.
Form tip: If it’s too difficult, try putting your arms out in front of you, and progress to moving them toward and then behind your head.
Make it harder: Simple – add motion, so it becomes a hollow rock. As the name implies, you’ll teeter-totter slowly on your coccyx (think: where butt and lower back meet) by pushing your legs toward the floor. But keep them straight as in the hold, and the same for your arms. Don’t let your heels or shoulders touch the floor. To really mix it up, pull one knee toward your chest and hold the other leg straight as you rock. Do as many as you can with proper form.
Any time you clench your glutes before/during an exercise you will protect your lower back by preventing extension. The trouble is, many of us have forgotten and have, for want of a better term “sleep butt syndrome” in that we’re not used to activating these powerful muscles. The glute bridge helps you re-activate them. This exercise can also help you overcome lower back pain and strengthens the hamstrings.
How to do it: Lie on your back and push your hips up until you’ve reached full extension. Clench your glute muscles hard and hold.
Form tip: Some people find it more comfortable to lift their toes off the ground, while others prefer their feet flat on the floor. Either way works.
Make it harder: Keep one leg in the starting position and extend the other out straight. Or, if you really want to go nuts, hold a weight plate on your stomach.
WARRIOR POSE 3
To be more stable on your board, it helps to incorporate core exercises that test your balance. Our favorite is the one-leg warrior pose 3.
How to do it: Standing on your left leg, hinge forward at the hips and extend both ends as if you’re Superman, and at the same time extend your right leg behind you until it’s in line with your trunk. Hold steady with just a slight bend in your left leg.
Form tip: You can look forward or down, depending on what feels more natural.
Make it harder: Trust us, this exercise is difficult enough!
Check back next week for “Carve Your Core Part II” with motion-based core exercises.
Click here for more Paddle Healthy.