You've probably heard ad nauseam how building core strength improves balance, stability and posture while reducing your risk of injury. You also know there's more to working your core than crunches and planks. For a more dynamic, integrated approach to core work that involves your abs, hips, back and shoulders, get off the floor and move away from your mat. Work in an upright position, while moving, because that's when you need your core the most. For added resistance, challenge and variety, throw exercise tubing into the mix.
Warm up with five to seven minutes of light, low-impact cardio activity, such as walking, jogging or marching in place. When you break a light sweat, do some dynamic stretching -- involving smooth, continuous, repetitive movement -- to further warm up your joints and muscles. Traveling lunges with a torso twist and arm swing are great for getting your whole body fired up for integrated core work.
Prep yourself for a baseball swing, which works your arms, shoulders and core. Stand with your feet on the middle portion of the tube, hip-width apart. Cross the tube to form an "X" in front of your torso and take one handle in each hand. Bend your knees and elbows slightly and draw your hands together so your palms almost touch. Keeping your elbows bent and your core tight, rotate your torso to the right and swing both hands up and over your right shoulder. As your torso twists, straighten both knees and allow the left leg to rotate inward slightly. Pause briefly at the top of the movement and then return slowly to your initial position.
Bring your chest, arms, buttocks and upper legs into the picture with a squat variation. Slide each foot through one handle of the tube, so the flat part of the handle lies across the sole of the foot. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and cross the tube, forming an "X" in front of you. With your elbows pressing into your sides, hold the middle of the tube with both hands at chest-height, shoulder-width apart. Your palms should face away from you. Slowly bend your knees and lower yourself into a squat, thighs parallel to the floor. Straighten your knees, stand up and extend your arms completely overhead, pushing against the tube's resistance. Hold briefly and then return slowly to a squat, returning your hands to chest level. Avoid arching the lower back when your arms are overhead.
Attach one end of the tube to a stationary object at your right. Holding the free handle with both hands, move to the left until the tubing is taut. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold your hands close to your body, near the bottom center of your ribcage. With your elbows close to your sides, your knees slightly bent and toes facing front, tighten your core muscles and slowly rotate your torso to the left. Maintain a straight spine and move your head, chest and trunk as a single unit. Hold briefly at the end of the movement and then rotate back to the front. For greater challenge, keep your arms extended in front of you during the rotation or perform the exercise while standing on one foot.
Anchor one end of the tube to a stationary object about 12 inches from the floor. Attach the free end of the tube to your right ankle. Move to the left of the anchored end to remove slack and stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes facing front. Tighten your core, shift your weight over your left foot and adduct the right leg, drawing the right foot across the front of your left leg. Alternatively, move to the right of the anchored end of the band, brace your core and abduct the right leg, pulling the band to the right with your right foot. Keep your hips and shoulders square to the front. Complete the desired number of reps and sets before switching to your left leg.
Items you will need
- Exercise tubing
- For every exercise, perform one to four sets of eight to 12 reps on each side.
- When you cross the tubing to form an "X," twist it around twice before you take hold of the handles. This makes the point of intersection more solid.
- Start with a light- to moderate-resistance tube. If you don't fatigue after several sets, bump up to the next resistance level.
- Keep your core engaged throughout every exercise to avoid arching -- and possibly injuring -- your lower back. If you feel your form failing, stop.
- Check your tubing closely for signs of wear before every use. Small tears or worn spots indicate it's time to replace your band.
- MayoClinic.com: Core Exercises: Why You Should Strengthen Your Core Muscles
- American Council on Exercise: Rethinking Core Training
- Fitness Magazine: Baseball Swing
- Fitness Magazine: Hooray Squat
- American Council on Exercise: Standing Cable Rotation
- American Council on Exercise: Standing Hip Adduction
- American Council on Exercise: Standing Hip Abduction
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images