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Fitness: Increasing Core Stability
Core stability benefits everyone, from older people to top professional athletes.
How can I increase my core strength and stability?
Core stability exercises are easy to do. It's more important that you do them well than that you do a lot of them. That's why it's a good idea to have a physical therapist check to be sure you have learned to use the right muscles and breathe normally while you do the exercises.
When you do any core stability exercise, it's important to make sure:
- You are breathing right. When you exercise, you should mostly breathe with your diaphragm, the large muscle that helps move air in and out of your lungs. To learn to breathe with your diaphragm:
- Lie on your back, or prop yourself up on several pillows.
- Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
- When you breathe in, push your belly out as far as possible. You should feel the hand on your belly move out, while the hand on your chest does not move.
- When you breathe out, you should feel the hand on your belly move in.
- Notice how it feels to breathe this way. When you start to exercise, try to get the same feeling of your chest and belly moving in and out as you breathe, rather than your chest and shoulders moving up toward your neck and back down.
- You find your neutral spine. Neutral spine is the name for posture that maintains the three normal curves in your spine—one in your neck, one in your upper back, and one in your lower back. Your spine should be in this neutral position when you do core stability exercises. It may seem more relaxing to let yourself slump down. But when you lose the normal curves of a neutral spine, you actually put more stress on your body. To find your neutral spine:
- Stand in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips. Allow your low back to arch so your stomach juts forward, and your buttocks stick out. Notice how your hands rotate forward.
- Tighten the muscles around your stomach and buttocks so your low back becomes very flat. Notice how your hands rotate backward.
- Now go halfway between the forward and back positions.
- Keeping your pelvis in this neutral position, stand tall with your ears and shoulders lined up over your hips.
- Practice finding this neutral spine in three positions: standing, sitting, and lying on your back with your knees bent. When you can do that, you can maintain good posture for daily activities and for exercise.
Two simple exercises to try
You can do this exercise anywhere, in any position. Try it while you work at your desk, drive, or stand waiting for your turn at the drugstore.
- Pull in your belly and imagine pulling your belly button back toward your spine. Remember to keep your neutral spine while you do this—don't let your back bend forward.
- Hold this for about 6 seconds. Remember to keep breathing normally.
- Rest for up to 10 seconds.
- Repeat 8 to 12 times.
The bridging exercise works the muscles around your lower body and hips. Do not continue with this exercise if it causes pain.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your knees should be bent about 90 degrees.
- Find your neutral spine position. You will hold it during the exercise.
- Tighten your belly muscles by pulling in your belly button toward your spine.
- Then push your heels into the floor, squeeze your buttocks, and lift your hips off the floor until your shoulders, hips, and knees are all in a straight line.
- Hold about 6 seconds. Remember to breathe normally.
- Lower yourself slowly to the floor and rest for up to 10 seconds.
- Repeat 8 to 12 times.
After you have mastered these simple exercises, your physical therapist can help you find more challenging ways to work on your trunk muscles. For example, you might do some activities while standing up, then do the same activities while sitting on a large ball called a Swiss ball. The ball makes it harder for you to keep your balance as you do the activity.