To have flat abs, you need to train all the layers of abdominal muscles, including the core stabilisers. When they are strong, the core muscles pull the abdominal area in flat. To get good results from core training programs, you need to understand how the core muscles act as stabilisers. Core strengthening exercises for beginners therefore need to start with the basics of finding the “neutral” pelvis position and keeping your pelvis stable. This is covered in the first step of the workout, followed by 5 basic core exercises.
Reasons it’s difficult to get started with core training
Training the deep core stabilising abdominal muscle (the transverse abdominis) is a lot more complex than training the “6-pack” muscles. The main reasons for this are:
- You need to start at the beginning: Lifestyles which involve long periods of inactivity – driving, sitting at a computer, watching television etc. encourage bad posture. The deep abdominal muscles get weak and “switch off”. You have to start with simple, gentle exercises and people lose patience with this because they don’t feel like they are doing anything.
- Because they are postural muscles, that is muscles which stabilise, not initiate, movement, you have to get used to the idea of moving other body parts, not the part you want trained, while holding the part you want trained steady. It takes time and practice to understand what you are trying to achieve with core training
- Doing the exercises wrong can cause injury. In order to be safe and effective, core training exercises must be done with the pelvis held in correct alignment (see neutral pelvis below).
Although it takes time and practice, persevering with core training is well worth the effort, both in terms of abdominal tone and lower back health.
Notes on doing the workout
Before doing these exercises, please read the general exercise safety guidelines here.
You’ll need something to cushion your spine – either an exercise mat or folded blanket/quilt.
The pelvis needs to be able to tilt forwards and backwards as we move, but bad postural habits can lead to it being in a forward or backward position at rest, instead of in the neutral position. In women, the forward position is very common, especially after pregnancy. If you do core exercises with a tilted pelvis, they won’t work the muscles they’re supposed to work.
To find neutral pelvis
5 core strengthening exercises for beginners
This is a short routine to help you to master the basics of engaging your core muscles and holding on to neutral pelvis. Do the routine 6 days a week if you can, with one rest day. You can schedule and record your workouts on the printable schedule (see below).
#1 Toe taps 10 each leg
In this exercise, the core muscles must hold on to the neutral position, while you lower one leg at a time to the floor.
Find neutral as described above, then take both feet off the floor and hold your legs as shown:
Holding on to the neutral pelvis position, lower one leg to the floor. It’s important not to let your pelvis move – the core muscles will have to work to hold on to neutral. Bring your leg back up to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
# 2 Opposite arm and leg lifts 5 x 5 seconds on each side
Your core muscles work in this one by keeping your back flat and keeping your whole body stable. If they aren’t engaged, your back will dip instead of being flat and you’ll wobble. The starting position is all-4 kneeling. Make sure your back isn’t arching – use a mirror or ask someone to check.
Keeping your abdominal muscles pulled in, lift your right arm and left leg until they are parallel with the floor. Keep your back flat and your body steady. Hold for 3 seconds. Lower and repeat with your left arm and right leg.
# 3 Abdominal hollowing 5 x 5 second holds
Abdominal hollowing is just sucking the core muscles in. You can do it in any position – standing, sitting, lying, kneeling .. but doing it in the all-4s kneeling position is good because you are working directly against gravity.
Get into the all 4s position as above, then suck your tummy in as much as you can without your back moving. Hold for 5 seconds, release and repeat.
#4 Shoulder bridge x 10
In the shoulder bridge, the idea is to control the movement and curl your spine off the floor gradually. This improves mobility in your spine, as well as making your core muscles work.
Start by lying on the floor with your knees bent and your feet about hip distance, with your pelvis in neutral. Now press your lower back into the floor, tilting your pelvis backwards.
Follow this movement through so that your lower back starts to peel off the floor. You should be aiming to come into the bridge position with a smooth, controlled, curling movement. Concentrate on working through one vertebra at a time. You will probably find this difficult at first as parts of your spine will be less flexible.
Stop when your whole spine is lifted and your weight is resting on your shoulders. Now reverse the movement, lowering back down one vertebra at a time. Again, it should be a smooth, controlled movement, working through each joint in the spine.
#5 Single leg stretch 10 on each leg
Like with the toe taps exercise, you need to focus on keeping your pelvis in neutral while your legs extend out.
Lie on the floor with your arms by your side, your legs about hip distance apart and your pelvis in neutral.
Bring both knees in towards your chest, then extend one leg as shown. Your core muscles should be working to hold onto neutral (ie stopping your back from arching).
Now reverse the movement and repeat on the other leg.
Remember with core training, it’s important to keep making sure the abs are engaged and the spine is in the neutral position. If you don’t, the exercises won’t work and you could hurt your lower back.
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