The core is made up of not just our abdominal muscles, but includes our lower back and muscles around the spine, hips, the neck and shoulders. The core includes the diaphragm and the pelvic muscles too. You can engage your core anytime, anywhere wether it's sitting down, walking down the street or even on the bike! Pull your belly in toward your spine and draw up your pelvic floor simultaneously to as little as 20% so you can feel a gentle connection.
Strengthening the core will improve balance and stability, give better posture, reduce back pain and even increase pedal power in your Psycle classes!
Below are a few of my favourite exercises that I use regularly use in Pilates classes. You don't need any equipment, so you can do these at home or straight after class. Any questions, just get in touch or join me straight after my Friday 8AM class for a quick 15 minute core blast.
Single Leg Stretch
Strengthens the core / Increases hip, hamstring and lower back flexibility.
- Starting with upper body flexed off the mat, imprinted position (contract abdominals to gently draw lower back down) and legs in tabletop looking at your knees
- Inhale to prepare and exhale to extend one leg away, stabilising your shoulders and continue to engage abs to maintain the imprinted position. Continue, alternating legs.
Repeat 10-15 reps.
Full body workout / Strengthens upper and lower body, core and obliques.
- Start in a pushup position with your hands under shoulders, core tight, and body forming a straight line from crown of head to heels.
- Lift one foot off the floor, draw the knee toward your chest, and return to the start. Repeat on the other side. Continue alternating.
*You can have fun changing up the speed with this one for a cardio blast! Try changing knee position also to challenge the abs with wide position (above picture) straight under and crossing knee under your body to the opposite elbow.
Plank Get Ups
Strengthens shoulders, pecs, triceps, lower back and abs
This has to be one of my favourites…I love an exercise that combines working a few different muscles in one go!
- Start in a plank position with toes curled under and hands directly under shoulders. Engage core and glutes and stabilise the shoulders.
- In a controlled movement, lower one elbow at a time to the ground while really engaging the core will help to keep a strong plank and stabilise the hips so you don't rock (no wiggly bums here please)!
- Pull your belly towards your spine and push back up to the plank, placing one hand at a time under your shoulder and maintaining the plank, keeping your body in a straight line ensuring the hips don't lift too high and especially not dropping too low, which can add unnecessary strain to the lower back.
- Return to plank position. Continue with the sequence R, L, R, L then L, R, L, R.
Obliques Roll Back
Strengthens abdominals and, it’s in the name...obliques!
*I would advise avoiding this one if you have any disc issues
- Sit tall with palms in prayer position and legs hip width apart. Shoulders back and down.
- Roll back starting at the base of your spine to create a 'C' curve position. Flex and articulate through the spine one vertebrae at a time. (It’s easy to tense the shoulders and neck here, try to keep them relaxed so you can get the most out of your abs and obliques.)
- Once you are in a flexed position, exhale, engaging the core & rotate your body to one side Keeping your hands in prayer to help control the twist through the body.
- Rotate back to the flexed 'C' curve position and come back to the start. Repeat on the other side.
Alternate for 10-15 reps.
Swan Dive Prep
(Otherwise known as cobra stretch)
- Start with hands just outside of shoulders, face down, slide shoulders back and down. Inhale to prepare, drawing belly to spine.
- Exhale engaging your core, imagine you are rolling a marble away from you with your nose and then continue to lengthen through the spine and lift up. Keeping your glutes (that's your booty) relaxed here is key to avoid putting pressure on the lumbar spine.
- Inhale at the top and exhale slowly returning to the start.
*Only lift to elbows if the full extension is too much.
Repeat 4-6 reps.
Breaststroke Prep/Back Extension.
Strengthen mid-back / Good for posture.
- Start laying face down (use a small towel or thin block under the forehead if needed). Inhale to prepare and gently draw shoulders down whilst drawing the belly to spine.
- Exhale, lift and lengthen through your spine from the crown of your head, in a long low line. Maintain a strong core, whilst relaxing the legs and glutes. (The aim is to feel this across your mid back, not your lumbar/lower back).
- Inhale to lower back down.
Repeat 10-15 reps.
Side Plank with Hip Raise
Works core and waist (obliques — I call them love handles!)
- Start on your side with your body in a straight line. Stack your feet and place your elbow directly under your shoulder. Lift up into a strong side plank position (careful not to sink into the shoulder).
- Inhale to lower the hips so they are just off the ground keeping the shoulders stabilised and adducting the thighs together. Then exhale to draw the hips back up to the start, in line with the rest of the body.
Repeat 10-15 reps then change sides.
Becky Duffy is a Psycle instructor as well as a personal trainer and Pilates instructor.