your core strength for better power, flexibility, and stability."
Traditional resistance training builds overall strength. To compliment the
large muscles of the body, you still need exercises that deliver core power,
flexibility and stability. Physical therapists, fitness trainers, ballet
dancers and Yoga instructors have known the power of core strength for years.
More recently, recreational athletes have discovered its performance benefits
for sports such as skiing, biking, water sports, and yes, inline skating.
Where are your core muscles? Stand up and exhale forcefully. You’ll feel your abdominal muscles pushing back against your spine to force the air out. Other muscles deep inside are engaged too, although you may not be aware of them yet.
The core strength workouts on this page will help you start to build strength and stability in the front, back and sides of your torso as well as deep within.
The Beginner core workout is done while lying on the floor, preferably a plush carpet. Here’s how to engage your core muscles while lying down. Exhale fully until you feel your navel pressing back toward your spine. Feel each vertebra pressing into the carpet. To make sure you keep your grip on the core muscles, place your hands on each side of your belly with pinky fingers over your hip bones and thumbs in contact with your lower ribs. Now inhale. If your thumbs rise, your lower ribs are tipping up. Exhale hard to reengage the core muscles and get your entire spine back down on the carpet.
Do the following moves at least three times a week.
- Knee raises: Lying on your back with your core engaged, bend your knees and set both feet down near your hips. Slowly begin to raise the knees, using your thumbs on the ribs as spotters to make sure your core remains engaged throughout the movement. Once your knees are over your chest, reverse directions and slowly begin lowering them with toes pointed toward the floor. As the toes come into contact, immediately reverse for another rep without releasing your core muscles. If this is too easy for you, straighten your legs a little, but be sure to keep your spine glued to the floor. Repeat 3 times.
- Bicycling: Lying on your back, raise both legs to 90 degrees. Begin pedaling the air in a slow bicycling motion, and complete 10 revolutions for each leg. Reverse and pedal backwards for 10 revolutions. Remember, to keep the lower ribs flat and your spine glued to the carpet. If this is too easy for you, pedal with your feet closer to the floor.
- Swimmer kicks: Lying on your stomach, turn your head to the side and rest your cheek on your hands. Perform 20 straight-leg kicks (the count is for each leg) as though you are swimming. Tighten your gluteus (buttock) muscles and hamstrings (backs of thighs) to kick your thighs high off the floor. Rest briefly and repeat two more times. If this is too easy for you, stretch both arms out in front and raise head and arms off the floor while you kick.
- Side crunches: Lie on your left side with knees bent at right angles, head resting on the left shoulder. Reach your right hand over your head and grasp it above your left ear. Pull gently up as you tighten your top waist muscles into a crunch. At the same time, raise your right heel and try to make heel and elbow meet. Relax back down. Do seven more slow repetitions, then turn over and repeat on the other side.
Pilates (pronounced puh-la'-tease) is a conditioning method developed in the early 1900s by German-born Joseph Pilates, a pioneer of functional fitness. Pilates is used for training the body to perform its daily tasks with proper alignment, flexibility and strength. Each Pilates move is stabilized by the "powerhouse," where you engage the muscles of the abdominals, lower back, hips and buttocks from deep inside the body. Today, Pilates workouts range from coaching sessions on special machines to mat exercises anybody can do at home (my favorite).
Use the following three mat exercises as a warm up just before your resistance training sessions. Remember to engage your powerhouse before starting each move: a strong exhale (whisper “Hah!”) does exactly that. You will be most comfortable performing the moves on a firm but cushioned surface such as a Yoga mat on top of a low-pile carpet. At a gym, look for 1-inch-thick foam pads commonly available for stretching.
Side Circles, Lifts and Kicks
These exercises increase the strength, mobility and flexibility of your hip joints. Lie on your side and rest your head on your palm. Raise the top foot to hip height and hold your upper body and hips as still as possible. Perform each move just 5 times. Lie on the opposite side and repeat the series.
- Swing your leg as far forward and as far back as you can, but add a second small kick before reversing to prevent injury from momentum. Inhale to the front, exhale to the back.
- Raise and lower your leg, inhaling on the up, exhaling on the down.
- Make 5 small circles, then 5 large circles. Steady your spine and hips with your hand on the mat. Reverse directions and repeat small, then large circles.
- Position the top foot (or knee) on the mat in front of the bottom thigh. Raise and lower the bottom leg 5 times.
Rolling Like a Ball
This abdominal strengthener does triple duty by also improving your balance and massaging your spine. Sit at the front of your mat and grasp your shins just below your knees. Engage your core, round your back and tuck your chin down. With an inhale, fall backward, knees close to chest. When your shoulder blades contact the mat, reverse directions and roll back to upright, but do not let your toes touch down. Instead, use balance and your abdominal muscles to pause at the top before the next backward roll. Repeat 5 times.
This challenging upper body strengthener builds balance as well as core and shoulder stability while stretching your hips and waist. Avoid it if you have shoulder problems. Sit on one hip with knees slightly bent and the lower arm’s palm directly below your shoulder, fingers pointing out. In one movement, press up onto a straight arm, balancing on your hand and the sides of your feet with your legs and body straight and upper arm raised. This forms a T-shaped starting position (easy option: leave your bottom knee on the mat.)
With powerhouse engaged, bring the top arm down and
through the space under your bottom arm, rotating your head and rib cage
(but not hips) to follow. Return to your starting position and repeat the
5 times. Perform the same movements on your opposite side.
A strong and stable torso helps you perform efficiently in both sport and everyday life. Unlike the muscle isolation of traditional weight lifting, a focus on functional fitness teaches your core muscles to work together as an integrated unit, and balances your strength gains across all of the involved muscles. To gain true core strength, you must spend equal time on your abdomen, sides, back and other areas deep in the trunk. When these are strong and working together, you have more spinal control during dynamic movements such as skating.
A great way to build core strenght is to do stability exercises on an unstable support, such as an exercise ball. The balance aspect added by the ball makes sure you are engaging the deeper core muscles. Insert these exercises after a 15-minute cardio warm-up.
For best results and back safety when working your core, compress your abdomen throughout each move (a forced exhalation will attain this state).
- Back extensions - From a kneeling position, lie forward over the ball, hands clasped behind your head. Pushing with your toes, roll forward until the ball is under your hips, at the same time raising your chest. Roll back to the starting position and repeat 15 times.
- Abdominal roll - In a kneeling position, clasp your hands and lean your forearms on the ball. Slowly roll it forward until your chest touches the ball, then lift your knees and pause while your body is in a straight line. Maintain control and form as you return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
- Hip raise - Lie on your back with your heels on top of the ball. Push the ball away under slow control. This lifts your hips off the floor until your body is in a straight line. Squeeze your glutes for one second before returning to the start position. Repeat 10 to 15 times. If this becomes too easy, fold your arms across your chest for a greater balance challenge.
- Crunches - Sit on the ball and roll your hips forward until the ball is under your lower back. Clasp your hands behind your head don't yank it) and do 15 regular abdominal crunches.
- Crossover twist - Carry an unweighted bar across your shoulders. Sit on the ball and roll your hips forward until your torso is tilted at 45 degrees, with spine straight and abs engaged. With outstretched arms, twist from right to left, 15 in each direction.