A strong core is essential. It is needed to support your lower back, and helps with balance and stability, which, in turn, helps you to stand from sitting, bend, twist and turn, reach up and to be able to lift and carry things. It’s like the powerhouse of your body and regular care and attention are important to keep the muscles working properly. If you put the work in, they will do their job and look after you.
The core muscles consist of:
- Rectus abdominis – these are two long, flat, parallel muscles that reach between the pubic bone and the ribs, often called the ‘six-pack’. This is responsible for movement and bending the spine.
- The obliques – these are made up of the external obliques which are muscles on either side of the rectus abdominis and the internal obliques which are just under the external obliques. These muscles allow you to twist and bend.
- Transverse abdominis – this muscle wraps all the way around the torso from the ribs to the pelvis and is the deepest muscle layer. This muscle stabilises the spine and supports the abdominal wall.
- Latissimus dorsi – these muscles run down both sides of the spine from just under the shoulder blades to the pelvis. Often called the ‘lats’, they help to stabilise the back and help with twisting.
- Erector spinae – these are found either side of the spine, reaching the whole length of the back. They are important for lengthening and rotating the back, as well as side to side movement.
Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean that you can’t do the exercises needed to keep your core strong. Remember, we don’t stop exercising because we get old – we get old because we stop exercising!
It’s important to engage your core when exercising, not only to give you a better workout, but also to reduce the risk of injury, but how do you do this? It’s commonly thought that sucking in your tummy is engaging your abs, but it isn’t quite as simple as that. You need to tighten all the muscles from your ribs to your hips. The best way to do this is to imagine that someone is going to punch you in the stomach. You would brace yourself, take a deep breath and tighten all the muscles in that area. This is where you need to be tightening, from your ribs to your hips, as well as pulling the abs inwards and upwards. Hold this for a few seconds and then release. Try this and put your hands either side of your ribs. Whilst your core is engaged, only your rib cage should be moving. You should be able to keep breathing normally throughout. You can do this throughout the day until you find that you naturally engage your abs most of the time.
Try a combination of the following three exercises to give your core a good workout and keep you strong and mobile.
- Bird Dog
This exercise works the rectus abdominis, erector spinae and glutes. This is great for balance and posture and especially good if you have lower back problems.
Start on all fours with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Draw your shoulder blades together and slowly raise your right arm and leg until parallel with the floor. Squeeze your abs and lengthen your neck as you look down at the floor. Hold for a few seconds then return to the start position and repeat on the other side. Aim to do 5 per side building up to 10 per side.
- Hip Raises/Bridge
The hip raise works the hamstrings, lower back, abs and glutes. This is also a good alternative if you are not able to do squats as there is no pressure on the lower back.
Start by lying on the floor with your legs bent and feet on the floor. Squeeze your abs and push your heels into the floor to slowly raise your hips off the floor. Only go as high as is comfortable and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement. Hold for 10 seconds and slowly lower back down. Aim for 5, building up to 10.
The plank is a fantastic core exercise as well as working the spine, rhomboids and trapezius (muscles in the upper back). This will also help to improve your posture if done regularly.
Start on your hands and knees. Engage your abs and lower down onto your forearms, making sure that your elbows are underneath your shoulders and keeping your feet in the air behind you. Look down at the floor with your neck in a neutral position. Make sure that your body is in a straight line from your head, through your hips and to your knees. Start by holding for 10 seconds, lowering back down, and repeating, and building up to holding for up to a minute. You can then build this up into a full plank by lifting the knees off of the floor and keeping your neck, shoulders, hips, knees and feet in a straight line. Again, start with 10 seconds, and build this up to 1 minute.
You are not aiming for speed, so don’t use momentum with these exercises. Keep them slow and controlled to really work the core muscles.
If you’re new to exercising, not sure what to do in a big gym or a little overwhelmed by them or you simply want to find out more about exercising as you get older, please visit us at www.wfitness.co.uk to check out our small boutique ladies gym, and let us help you to stay fit, healthy and mobile, well into old age 😊
Caroline & Hannah xx