3 Exercises to Activate Your Core Muscles

15 09 2011

By Kate Allgood, MAT, SH
For Active.com

The dream of six pack abs and tight core muscles is a common fitness dream for both men and women. However, it’s impossible to achieve if one side of your muscles is working harder than the other – or worse, you’re experiencing muscle pain.

The core, comprised of the trunk and spine, provides support and stabilization for all movements. Any time we twist, turn, bend over at the waist, or hold our body in one position for a long period of time, our core is at work.

The way you sit and your posture (tendency to slouch) are just a couple of the reasons that can cause core problems. It is a highly sensitive area, meaning that an issue affecting the neck may reverberate down the spine or vice versa.

If your core isn’t working properly, other areas that are not meant to handle such stress end up compensating and suffering in the process. This commonly manifests itself in back aches, especially lower back pain.

Core Issues and Exercises

Imagine picking up a box. Yes, we all know that we are supposed to lift with our legs, but this cannot be done unless our stomach is tight and stabilized, so that we can lift with our legs.

Even when working out, you may notice that it is easier to do a sit up on side of your body than the other, which can result in uneven definition of the oblique muscles.

The core is also constantly at work during a variety of sports, including golf, tennis, ice hockey and baseball. Athletes put so much emphasis on rotating their trunk to one side that they are unable to move fluidly or at all. It has “shut off” because it has been overworked.

In order to avoid such issues, try these exercises that target the core muscles to help keep them even and balanced:

Trunk Rotation

  • Sit on the floor with your back straight and legs flat out in front of you. (Note: If you are unable to do this, try sitting straight in a chair with your knees bent.)
  • Cross your arms across your chest, and rotate your trunk 45 degrees to the right. (You should feel your abdomen contract on the right side.)
  • Hold the position for six seconds.
  • For additional resistance, continue to rotate your trunk while a partner gently pushes your left shoulder toward the neutral position.
  • Repeat six times on each side, resting for a few seconds in between sets. Increase the amount of rotation with each set.

Lower Abdominal Cross

  • Lie flat on your back with your left side next to a wall.
  • Bend the right knee and cross it over the other leg, so that your right foot is on the ground next to the wall.
  • Very slowly, move your right thigh across your body until your knee touches the wall. Your right hip should be several inches off the floor at this point, and you should feel your lower abdominal muscle contracting.
  • For additional resistance, push your knee into the wall.
  • Hold the position for six seconds and repeat six times on each side, resting for a few seconds in between sets.

Back Twist

  • Lie flat on your back with your left side next to a wall. Keep legs straight.
  • Keeping legs together, angle them slightly to the left side (about 10 degrees).
  • Rotate your left leg only inward as far as you can.
  • Hold the position for six seconds and repeat six times on each side, resting for a few seconds in between sets. Increase the amount of rotation with each set.

*Important note for all exercises: If pain or cramping occurs, decrease the level of difficulty or stop.

Muscle Activation Techniques

Some people will require additional or more customized assistance to get – and keep – their core in optimum condition. Muscle Activation Techniques, or MAT, is one treatment that can help balance the core muscles, working to alleviate pain and boost fitness/exercise results, among other benefits.

A MAT specialist will first do a series of Range of Motion tests to determine what muscle imbalances exist. For the core, this will include completing the “Trunk Rotation” above. In a variation of this test, the individual may also be asked to bend to the side after rotating the trunk.

Other Range of Motion tests may include having the client lie with his back on a massage table and do side bends. A client may also be asked to sit on the table with legs straight out in front, so that the upper and lower body form a 90 degree angle. (This test sounds simple, but most people are not able to keep their body properly aligned in this position.)

If any of these tests are not symmetrical or cannot be completed without pain or discomfort, e.g. the person is able to bend to the left side much farther than the right, the MAT specialist may do further testing in that area of the body to determine the specific muscle(s) that have been compromised. The specialist will then do precise palpations to the identified muscle(s) and retest the area until functioning has increased. Even treating one or two muscles in the core area can positively impact the rest of the core.

Often MAT clients will cite that they notice a difference in the specific area that was worked on shortly after treatment; however, multiple sessions are usually required for maximum effectiveness and lasting results.

Kate Allgood, MAT, SH is president of Balanced Bodyworks, a Southern California-based business that enhances and improves mental and physical health and performance. Services include Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT), which corrects muscular imbalances to relieve pain and boost functioning, and sport hypnosis, which improves athletic performance through visualization and reinforcement techniques. Allgood is also an elite athlete, previously recognized as one of Canada’s best female athletes. For more information, visit http://www.balanced-bodyworks.com or call 858-344-5335.

Muscle Activation Techniques™, including the exercises described above, were developed by Greg Roskopf. For more information or to find a specialist near you, visit http://www.muscleactivation.com.

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