Our list of the 3 best core exercises offer the perfect way to keep your spine health and your abdominal muscles strong and functioning well – no matter where you are!
Those of you who have had some previous ‘iNform experience’ would be fully aware that we tend to stray away from traditional abdominal exercises like crunches, for those movements that train the core in a more movement specific manner.
Now, first and foremost, a bit of a disclaimer – these traditional exercises are unquestionably anatomically correct.
With this I mean that they do indeed train the abdominal muscles – although they certainly don’t really train them in a manner that replicates how they work in the real world.
You see, the muscles of the trunk (AKA, your core) make up a seriously complex system that plays a multitude of roles which are dependent upon the scenario in which they are placed.
With this in mind, they act to stabilise the spine and pelvis during high force and high velocity movements, they transfer force from one limb to another (for example, from the hip to the arm during throwing movements), and can also initiate movement of the trunk itself.
Which should make it pretty obvious as to why traditional abdominal exercises really don’t do enough.
But don’t worry – we have got you covered.
The 3 great core exercises outlined in this article provide a simple way that you can train the muscles of the trunk in an effective and efficient manner. These can be performed at home, and offer a fantastic means of enhancing your ability to stabilise the spine and transfer force – ticking all of the boxes for us.
3 Best Core Exercises You Can Do at Home
So, onto our exercises.
The first cab off the rank is the deadbug.
Extremely simple in premise, this great exercise offers one of the most effective ways to improve core strength and improve spinal stability, while also enhancing the trunks ability to transfer force between the upper and lower limbs.
Moreover, it can be performed anywhere and at any time.
Start by lying on your back with your feet and hands in the air. Your knees should be bent to 90 degrees (you should ultimately look like a ‘dead bug’). In this position brace your abdominals and press your lower back flat into the ground.
Proceed to drive one leg out, while simultaneously lowering your opposite arm back. Extend both out as far as you can without your lower back raising off the floor. This movement should be slow and controlled.
Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side – this is one repetition.
We can thank well known coach Tony Gentilcore for the perfect demonstration
An oldie but a goodie!
When performed appropriately the side plank trains the muscles of the trunk and the hip in a manner that teaches proper spine and hip control. This means a healthier spine, and a stronger trunk – both of which are pretty important of you ask me!
Start lying on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder. You should be able to form a straight line from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head.
Lift your hips and trunk off the ground, ensuring that they are held in a straight line and completely rigid.
Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
Here is a perfect demonstration by super coach, Dean Somerset.
Our third and final option is a specific plank variation that aims to correct the unwanted postural deviations we see as the result of prolonged periods of sitting. I really like this plank variation for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it is seriously brutal. As a result, you only need to do sets of 15-20 seconds to get a decent effect, and get your abdominal muscles working overtime.
Secondly, it’s really hard to perform incorrectly. Once you get yourself in the proper position, if you ‘lose it’ you will feel it straight away. As a result, you can be sure that this exercises is doing exactly what its supposed to – which is building essentially building a strong and resilient human!
So, without further ado:
Start in a traditional plank position, with your elbows placed directly under your shoulders while you are up on your toes.
Shift your hips up so that they are slightly elevated, and squeeze your glutes as hard as you possibly can (imagine you are trying to crack a walnut…).
While in this position, actively ‘drag’ your elbows towards your knees (your elbows shouldn’t actually move, this should simply increase tension).
Hold this position with maximal tension for 15-20 seconds.
And another excellent demonstration provided by Dr John Rusin
Putting it all Together
So, doing these in a single (very short) session at home might look something like this.
Deadbug 20 reps either side
Side plank 20 seconds either side
RKC plank 20 seconds
Then rest for 1 minute and repeat the cycle 3-4 times, for a grand total of 10ish minutes.
Simple, and effective.
Take Home Message
I appreciate that you may not have the time available to get in a solid gym session every single day – but to say you don’t have the time to do anything is inexcusable. The program provided using the 3 core exercises outlined can be performed in as little as 10 minutes.
Not to mention it can be done literally anywhere, offers the perfect way to promote back health and enhance trunk strength, and allows your burn a little energy in the process.
I’m going to do something that I would never otherwise willingly do, and that is to plagiarize someone else’s work. But the article written by Josh Glancy in this weekend’s The Weekend Australian’s Inquirer is too good and on point to not make you aware of it. Josh’s article is based on an interview with Greg Lukianoff and Jonthan Haidt, who wrote “The Coddling of the American mind”. At iNform we have just instituted a No Snowflake Policy so this article resonates so strongly that I’m just going to pass on my summary of his words.
As a society we are starting to employ iGens, the generation made up of those born after 1995. they entered University around 2013, and the workforce as we speak. Now, of course this does not apply to every person, or perhaps even a majority of people, born in this period. But many factors in the last couple of decades have led to a coddled and over protected generation with a tendency for low resilience and ‘catastrophising’ what are otherwise bad and unwelcome events into disastrous ones.
Creating iNform’s No Snowflake Policy
What led the team at iNform to create the ‘No Snowflake Policy’ were a small number of members of this generation who came in with a tendency to think in binary terms; their arguments driven by emotions, by how things make them feel, rather than pointing to facts or rationality; and with little capacity to think beyond themselves and their circumstances and idealistic desires. We see the iNform ‘business’ as an elite athlete, a body at peak capacity; where every part of it is incredibly important, but only effective if it works as a part of the greater whole. Needless to say, snowflakes would not be a productive part of this organism!
As highlighted by Lukianoff and Haidt, this is not a political or ideological problem, but one of mental health; primarily due to over-protective parenting that fails to equip children to deal with confusion, adversity, and risk. And why? Maybe because increases in safety and technology are making our lives so comfortable that we now recoil from comfort! “safety has now taken on an almost religious quality” with the downside being children not feeling enough control over their lives.
We grow and develop as a consequence to adaptations to exposure. So with restricted exposure to risk and danger; fear or freedom; injury or adversity; these ‘young adults” first exposure to risk, adversity or pain is likely to be overly traumatic. The consequences to this can be severe, including anxiety, depression and even suicide (with rates for all these climbing over the last decade).
An over emphasis on academic achievement has also led to a decrease in ‘free play’ in children, which is when they get to learn the basic principles of team-work, compromise and conflict resolution… all in the sandpit or playground. For an example of how this is being tackled by Australian school’s, read the recent ABC article on the ‘Anti-cottonwool Schools‘.
Concerningly, we are also starting to see the outcomes of the snowflake effect in young adult’s capacity to deal with their first significant injury. As they have not had a chance to experience their body’s amazing capacity to heal and recuperate, this first sign of ‘something wrong’ is often catastrophised disproportionately. Luckily we have the skill set in-house and with our network of health professionals to get these clients back on track!
It’s natural and normal to feel depressed at times, particularly and especially when, life throws you a curve ball. Whether it’s the ending of a relationship, a death in the family, the loss of a job, or even just adjusting to different circumstances. Depression is a mood state, just like happy, excited or sad. Across the spectrum of symptoms, there are distinctly different types of depression. From not being able to eat or sleep, to eating too much and feeling too fatigued to even get out of bed. If depression was a colour it would come in all shades, in all colours.
Exercise and Depression: Nature’s Anti-depressant
A recent meta-analysis found that engaging in physical activity could reduce your chances of developing depression by 17%. We also know that typically exercise has a large effect on reducing symptoms of depression, and this includes activities like resistance training, yoga, bouldering (rock climbing), cycling, swimming and running. A well known study done in 1999 at Duke University even concluded that exercise was as effective as medication in relieving symptoms of depression!
Luckily exercise and physical activity also comes in a full spectrum of colours, too. From walking to work in the morning, or going for a run in your lunch break, to signing up for a yoga class or going to a boxing session with a mate. There is a type of exercise for everyone, and every type of exercise can be adapted to the intensity which you like best! You can exercise alone, or with a friend, or with a bunch of strangers. You can exercise indoors or outdoors. You can literally make it whatever you want!
I say all of this because I think the words ‘exercise’ or ‘physical activity’ bring to mind images of stereotypical types of exercise, like being in a gym or being outside running, which can put a lot of people off straight away. A better term to use would be movement. And our bodies were made to move, our physiology and particularly our neurophysiology (our brain) NEEDS us to move in order for us to feel good. (If you want to read more about this, read my stress blog).
Working Out Depression
Are you sure exercise is going to make me feel better…? (Yep!)
Exercise releases endorphins (anti-stress hormones), 40 types of them to be exact. One of the effects these have is that they calm the brain and relieve muscle pain during strenuous exercise (hence why Superman can lift cars up!). Exercise also regulates all of the same neurotransmitters targeted by antidepressants.
For starters, it immediately elevates norepinephrine, waking up the brain and getting it going. As well as improving self-esteem, which is one component of depression. Exercise boosts dopamine, which improves mood and feelings of wellness, and jump-starts the attention system. Dopamine is important because it is all about driving motivation and attention, that’s why they say getting started is the hardest part!
Exercise also increases BDNF which protects neurons against cortisol in areas that control mood, including the hippocampus. It encourages neurons to connect and grow, and it vital for neuroplasticity and neurogenesis (keeping our brain young and adaptable)!
In addition to feeling good when you exercise, you feel good about yourself, and that has a positive effect that can’t be traced to a particular chemical or area in the brain. We know that norepinephrine and serotonin, which are both boosted with exercise, act on the limbic system (the amygdala, the hypothalamus and the hippocampus) which is responsible for things like how we perceive and regulate our emotions. Even small doses of exercises are effective at improving peoples quality of life and psychosocial functioning.
The best exercises for reducing/preventing depressive symptoms are:
A recent study suggests that exercising between 3 and 5 times a week for 30-60 minutes is associated with better mental health, and team sports, cycling, aerobic and gym exercise came in at the top for types of exercise associated with better mental health.
Resistance training has also shown to have a large impact on reducing depressive symptoms, particularly when supervised by a health professional and lasting shorter than 45 minutes. You can read more on this in James’ blogs here and here.
If you’ve been feeling down and you start to exercise and feel better, the sense that you’re going to be OK and that you can count on yourself shifts your entire attitude. The stability of the routine alone can dramatically improve mood. So next time you feel flat do the smart thing, the thing that future you will appreciate, and move your body (even if it’s just out of the house!). And if motivation or accountability is the issue, why not train with an Exercise Physiologist or another qualified health professional?
Exercise is not an instant cure, but if you move your body your mood basically won’t have a choice!
It’s important to keep expectations reasonable
Exercise outside, or in an environment that stimulates your senses
Exercise with somebody
Something is better than nothing!
Try to form an exercise routine – this adds to feelings of stability
I’m writing this blog in light of an article I read recently on Daily Mail.com about exercise and pregnancy. It caught my attention because it was headlining that mothers should wait SIX MONTHS before running or doing strenuous exercise after child birth! Now, that is actually outrageous. For such a big media platform, this article is going to reach hundreds of thousands of people, and could very easily become an earnest belief for many pregnant women. Right in the middle of physical inactivity and health epidemic.
Why am I being told not to exercise?
The article stems from women’s health physiotherapists who often treat issues arising from high impact exercise done too soon after birth. Activities like running can play three times your body weight on your pelvic floor, which is in a vulnerable state after childbirth. If it’s not rehabilitated correctly (like when we experience any tissue damage), it can lead to a prolapse of the vagina, bladder and/or bowel. Women’s health physiotherapists have launched a campaign called ‘Pelvic Roar’ to raise awareness of pelvic health – which is the real issue here; awareness.
The exercise should change as you change, not stop
Our bodies don’t spring back from carrying a small human overnight. Our capacity to lift, contract, bend, stretch and even brace, will not be the same as it was before pregnancy. Hitting that pump class at the gym or bootcamp on Saturday morning’s probably isn’t a wise idea. Your body needs time to rehabilitate the muscles, tendons and ligaments that have all stretched to carry your little one. This takes specific and targeted exercises as everyone’s bodies will go through a different pregnancy journey, and will require different physical care. Exercises need to be modified and adapted as your body changes, and it’s hard to know how to do that on your own. It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor and when possible work with a clinically trained exercise professional.
Education of the effects, benefits and risks of exercise at all stages of pregnancy needs to be improved for all medical and health professionals who come into contact with new mothers. Hopefully then movement can be endorsed and embraced, with the emphasis on safety and individualisation.
5 reasons you SHOULD exercise while you’re pregnant:
If you like to consult the literature, like I do, and see what the science says; you will find a whole lot of positive evidence that supports doing exercise throughout and after your pregnancy. If you’re active before you fall pregnant it is safe to stay active during your pregnancy.
Engaging in light resistance training and aerobic exercise in the second and third trimester showed no negative effects on the risk of pre-term labour, mode of delivery, gestational age or newborn health. In fact, exercising during pregnancy had some positive effects by reducing prevalence of hypertensive and gestational diabetes and helped control excess weight gain throughout pregnancy. Potentially these factors combined with the strength, endurance and overall muscle health that is maintained during pregnancy, exercising is associated with a shorter first stage of labour. Pre- and post-natal depressive symptoms are significantly reduced with exercise,
What’s the next step?
Closer collaboration desperately needs to happen between healthcare professionals such as GPs, nurses, obstetricians, physios, exercise physiologists and fitness professionals. We need to encourage, empower and educate women who are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant or are recovering from pregnancy to exercise. But to exercise right!
If you’re currently pregnant, trying to get pregnant, know someone who is pregnant or have recently had your little one, please ask your health professionals about how you can safely make exercise work for you – or give us a call! Every pregnancy is different, it is important to seek advice from your doctor and to train with an appropriately qualified exercise professional, such as an exercise physiologist.
Any keen gym goer would have heard of the film “Pumping Iron” – and the subsequent revolution of Bodybuilding. Besides from being built like Hercules and having a positive-B sample, Strength Training has a lot of wonderful benefits for men and women. But what about Strength Training for depression?
Well, a recent meta-analysis published in the journal: JAMA Psychiatry may have just eluded some neat findings for Strength Training as an adjunct for reducing depression. The meta-analysis included: 33 clinical trials, with 1,877 participants. Gordon and colleagues found: “resistance exercise training was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.”
Promising news. However, there are limitations to consider… “total volume of resistance exercise training, health status and strength improvements were not associated with an antidepressant effect”.
So what could be some potential hypothesis that are contributing to the antidepressant effects experienced by the participants?
Filling in the gaps for using Strength Training for depression
First and foremost – we are born to move! When are ancestors became bipedal – moving to find food, water and shelter was essential.
And what happens when there is an unexpected reward? Dopamine is released, which causes a surge (reward dependent) of this wonderful catecholamine increasing the likelihood that the behaviour will be repeated – such as moving to find more resources, or more dumbbells!
Secondly, Strength Training has noteworthy benefits in the release of particular growth hormones and hypertrophic increases in muscle tissue. It would be plausible that an increase in testosterone, along with bigger muscles, would most definitely increase motor behaviour (going to the gym), along with libido (I will leave you with your own imagination). Which would equate to more energy being utilized, while also affecting higher cognitive regions in the frontal lobe improving: attention, motivation and reduced impulsiveness. The same areas of the brain that are inhibited by depression!
Lastly, although are ancestors missed out on dubstep, listening to music whilst exercising greatly activates many brain regions, along with an endogenous release of natural opioids that increase euphoria. I can see Hippocrates prescribing dubstep for his melancholic patients…
So hopefully I’ve filled in some missing gaps in the aforementioned meta-analysis that would be difficult to quantify.
Key take home points when using Strength Training for depression:
Work with an accredited Exercise Physiologist/Scientist – to move with confidence. While also being guided about specific exercise prescription for your current goals, or medical condition.
Make a sweet as music-playlist to increase baseline mood when Strength Training. Creating your own playlist will likely increase adherence to Strength Training along with enjoyment and motivation.
Lastly, always consult your GP – if you are currently inactive, and wanting to increase your physical activity levels. The team at iNform can assist you from there onwards.
Exercise was my last resort. I’ve heard this statement only a couple of times, but each time it makes my head spin. I have to ask what it is that makes people choose to undergo a surgical procedure, try multiple medications and every alternative therapy under the sun before resorting to exercise.
Is exercise hard work?
One option is that people sometimes view exercise as being hard work and prefer to take an “easier path” to deal with their issues. Essentially the hope is that someone else will fix them. You have a bad knee, get a surgeon to throw a new one in and you’ll be right to go. Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple. The months of rehab work (exercise) needed post-surgery will make you wish you just tried exercise to start with. Medications may help with many conditions, exercise may cure the condition or prevent its occurrence in the first place.
Exercise doesn’t have to be hard work. Sometimes the right exercise for a condition won’t even raise your breathing rate, heart rate or bring on a sweat. It’s not all about boot camps and working till you drop. It’s about finding the right exercise for you, for your needs and taking solace in the fact that it’s doing great things for you.
Lack of advice?
Could it be a lack of quality information from those we go to for advice? A series on low back pain by the global medical journal, The Lancet, mentions that most low back pain sufferers aren’t getting the most effective treatment and advice which is to stay active and to exercise (exercise appropriately is key!). Instead, advice given is often to rest, take pain killers, get spinal injections and surgery.
I am hopefully that times are changing and the importance of regular exercise is more at the forefront of people’s minds when thinking about how to best address injury and illness.
Own Your Health!
Your body is yours and your health is yours. Others can give you advice and point you in the right direction but in the end you need to do the work to reap the reward. I strongly believe that every person out there can benefit in some way from a well tailored exercise program.
In the end, exercise can be a free and easy way to make change to your health issues. All you need to do is grab it with both hands and don’t let go. Ultimately exercise should be your first stop on your journey to good health and well-being. Get some advice from a quality health professional and give exercise a red hot go before you move towards other options.