The problem with most People's Cores? Sit all day and the inner abdominal muscles and glutes get stretched out and weak, hip flexors and low back get short and tight...leading to low back pain, poor balance and other potential problems. Then you try to get active and things can really fall apart.
The problem with most people's core training programs?
1) too much emphasis on external abdominal exercises (crunches) and hip flexion (knee and leg raises);
2) not enough work on inner abdominals and glutes and stabilization while performing movement;
3) too many seated or lying exercise and machines, especially after sitting all day at work;
4 )inadequate or poorly targeted stretching;
5) lack of progression beyond a few basic exercises and failure to integrate movements with core stabilization.
Poor exercise selection can actually cause or exacerbate low back pain. However, an effectively designed fitness program can help protect you from injury and may speed your recovery. Some of the principles of these programs come from yoga and pilates, but you can actually incorporate them into a more traditional strength and conditioning program and progress them to provide continued improvement.
Here is a four step program that you can start to take to improve and train your innermost core:
Step 1- Flexibility: You can't properly work a muscle when the opposing muscles or synergists are tight and overactive, because your joints are in poor alignment. You're also more susceptible to injury. Most readers will benefit from a program like the one presented in the Ultimate Flexibility post, click here for a downloadable copy.
Step 2-Static Core Activation & Strengthening: Wake up the muscles that have been asleep all day long! These exercises focus on activating and strengthening the core in a stationary position, good examples include the 'plank' and quadruped with raised arm and leg. Static strengthening is a good start, but you'll also want to include exercises that train your core to stabilize your body as you perform movements.
Step 3-Integrated Core Training: Activate your core as you perform strength exercises for chest, back, arms, legs, shoulders - any muscle at all. Examples include single leg versions of standing chest press, rows, biceps curls, triceps extensions, as well as lunges and exercises performed on balance boards and stability balls. It is more challenging to stabilize as your perform the exercises, and these exercises train your core to stabilize in different ways that static core training. Once you've mastered this phase with good form throughout, you are ready to add more complex, dynamic movements that require core stabilization throughout.
Step 4-Dynamic Core Training: Here, we stabilize as we move multiple muscle groups together or move in multiple planes of motion, requiring constant effort to stabilize. A few examples include walking lunges with rotation and a step to balance, or a single arm row with a reverse lunge and step to balance, or multi-planar step ups onto a bench with balance and a biceps curl. These may sound over complicated, but they can be graceful to watch and help you stay balanced and on your feet when - for example - you have a near miss on the football field, track or crossing the street.