Beyond the Plank – Core Exercises That You Can Do Anywhere

In the spirit of core week, today I’m going to focus on some of the different exercises that you can do to strengthen your core. (Not just abs! Strengthening the core is all about strengthening all those muscles that hold you upright!) This week I challenged myself to do planks every day, progressing the length of the hold as the week goes on. However, there are far more core exercises aside from just the plank that you can do to keep your core strong and healthy:

  • Swiss Ball Bridge (Lie on your back with your feet and ankles placed on top of a Swiss ball, exhale and lift your hips off the ground, inhale and lower your hips back into place).
  • Abdominal Crunches (There are many variations of crunches. The key is to engage and isolate the proper muscle groups.)
  • Leg Push-Aways (Lie on your back, with bent knees, alternate bringing your legs up until your thigh is in a vertical position. This is similar to an exaggerated “marching” motion.)
  • Back Extension (“Superman”) (Lie on your stomach, lift your head, arms, torso, and legs – (so as to look like Superman flying) and increase your hold length as you become more comfortable).
  • Russian Twists (Sit on the floor in a “v” position and lean back so that your torso is at about 45 degrees, move your arms slowly from side to side. Extra credit if you use a medicine ball!).
  • Bird Dogs (Kneel on all fours so as to create a “table-top” position and keeping your spine neutral, raise your left leg and right arm and hold. Alternate and raise your right leg and left arm). 

The key to creating and maintaining a core routing is discovering which exercises work best for you. For me, there are certain exercises that my lower back and/or hips just can’t tolerate (bicycle kicks, for example, leave my hips constantly popping and cause my back to ache). There are so many different options out there – so if one doesn’t feel good (as in injury-type hurt not strength building type hurt) find another exercise to substitute in.

The great thing about these exercises is that they can be done in a short period of time and you can do them just about anywhere. Additionally, there isn’t a whole lot of equipment required (usually only a Swiss-ball or medicine ball, if you choose) and nearly all exercises can be modified to do without any equipment at all!

However, keeping a strong core isn’t only about what you do at the gym. It’s about the choices that you make on a daily basis. Are you sitting up straight when you are at your desk all day, or are you hunched over? (This is one of my biggest issues and I am trying to make a conscious effort to do a “core check”throughout the day). How do you sit when you’re watching t.v. or driving? Do you stand up straight and engage your muscles when you walk, or do you allow bad posture to creep in? While committing to daily exercises is a great way to strengthen these muscles – core workouts typically only last 5-15 minutes. Don’t undo all your hard work by neglecting your muscles the other 23 and 3/4 hours of the day!

As always – I am not a personal trainer or doctor (there’s a reason I chose to go law school) so be sure to check with a doctor who knows your needs before starting any exercise plan! For more in-depth information (and specific programs) I would recommend checking out Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger, which has an entire section on basic core strength for runners, as well as Unbreakable Runner by T.J. Murphy and Brian Mackenzie (founder of Crossfit Endurance). Both of these books contain great information regarding strength training as well.

What are your bad core-habits? What have you done to try to address them? Any favorite core exercises I missed?