Did you know your core is more than just your abs? A visible six-pack is no guarantee of a strong core, so what should you be focusing on when building core strength?
First, let’s bust some myths.
MYTH 1: Your ‘core’ are the muscles on your belly
Yes… and no. In fact, your core includes your abs, diaphragm, pelvic floor, hips, glutes and more. You use your core every time you twist, bend, lift and reach. Runners need a strong core for stability, swimmers need a strong core to maintain body position in the water, mums need a strong core to carry babies, nappy bags, car seats, strollers… you get the idea. Think of your core as everything but your arms and legs and you’ll see how important it is to your daily movement.
MYTH 2: You can focus-train your core
In fact, the best core activation and strengthening exercises are not ‘ab exercises’ at all, but compound movements that use the entire body. Squats, deadlifts and pull-ups all require bracing the core to create intra-abdominal pressure which protects the spine, maintains postural alignment and facilitates explosive energy (you don’t want to run out of puff at the bottom of a 100kg squat!).
Isometric holds (such as a plank or side bridge) build stability and strength, while unilateral (single-sided) training forces your core to switch on to counter-balance the load on one side of your body. Think single-leg deadlifts, kettlebell lunges, renegade rows.
MYTH 3: You can out-crunch a bad diet
The reality is, visible abs require a certain low level of body fat. You can crunch away for hours, but if you’re carrying extra body fat you won’t see the muscle hiding underneath. Cortisol, the stress hormone (also recognised by mums as the ‘insomnia’ hormone – it is triggered with lack of sleep), can contribute to belly fat, so controlling your stress levels, getting adequate rest and nourishing your bod with healthy food choices are also key to a tight core.
Now that you know there’s so much more to your core, here’s some of my favourite isolation moves, which I integrate with my compound lifts – because a strong core equals a strong mum. Practice these moves with perfect form, keep it slow and steady, and really focus on that mind-muscle connection. It’s so much harder to retain core control at a slower tempo than wildly scissoring back-and-forth. Imagine balancing a glass of water on your abs or back and aim not to spill a drop!
STRONG MUM AB CIRCUIT
- Hanging leg raises (or substitute for lying leg raises)
- Plank (build up to a minute or more)
- Bicycle crunches (keep elbows wide and don’t pull on your head)
- Oblique crunches (or side planks)
For photos and technique tips, check out my ab workout blog.
Building core strength is about so much more than a rippling six-pack – you’ll benefit from less back pain, better posture, improved balance, and better form in any sport. Follow me at @sophie_guidolin or check out @thebod_ for more training and technique tips – made for mums, from a mum of four!