Your body's core is composed of the muscles in your hips, back, pelvis and abdomen. In your stomach area alone, you have upper and lower abdominal muscles as well as those on your sides, called the obliques. Performing exercises targeted at strengthening and toning these muscles protects you from injury, back pain and problems with posture. Additional benefits to core exercises include a trim tummy and a lean, muscular look.
The simple yet challenging crunch conditions the muscles in your stomach. Begin by lying on your back with your feet against a wall. Your legs should be bent at a 90 degree angle. Tighten the muscles of your abdomen as you raise your head and shoulders toward the wall in front of you. Hold for a moment and then relax. Try 8 to 12 reps to get started. To work more of your abdominal muscles, including your obliques, include a variety of crunches in your workout, such as the side crunch. From the waist down, turn your lower body to one side, putting your hands, or one hand, behind your head. Keep your eyes on the ceiling as you crunch away to avoid unnecessary strain to your neck.
Tilt Your Pelvis
Pelvic tilts work the muscles of your lower abdomen. Lie on your back on top of an exercise mat with your knees bent and your arms at your sides or in a "T" position on the floor. Contract and tighten the muscles in your lower stomach. Act as if you wish to pull your belly button down to the ground below. Don't be tempted to use your leg muscles or glutes, but focus on tightening only your abs. Hold the position for a couple breaths and then relax. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps. Add some variety to your pelvic tilts. As an alternative, tilt your pelvis in the opposite way, creating a small arch between your lower back and the floor or mat while keeping your tailbone and hips in contact with the floor. Hold the position and then relax.
The air bike is an efficient way to strengthen your core muscles. Lie on your back with your hands locked loosely behind your head. Bring your knees up perpendicular to the floor with your lower legs parallel to the floor. Mimic a cycling motion, rotating your legs as if you were on a bike. As your right knee comes toward you, bring your left elbow up to meet it, effectively crunching your obliques. Return to your starting position, then meet the opposite (left) knee with your right elbow. It may be tempting to pull your head toward your knee, but this can cause injury to your neck. Instead, focus on using your abdominal muscles to complete the exercise. Continue alternating for 8 to 12 reps.
Trunk curls are an excellent way to work out both your internal and external obliques. Lie on an exercise mat on your back with your knees bent and your arms crossed over your chest. Utilize your upper abdomen muscles to slowly lift just your trunk slightly off the floor. Hold the position for five counts and then relax and lower yourself to the floor. If your neck becomes tired you can support it with your hand behind your head, but doing not tug or pull on your head when performing a curl. For a fun alternative, trunk curls can also be performed using the support of an exercise ball. Repeat this action for 8 to 12 reps.
Consult a doctor before embarking on a new exercise regime. Begin these exercises with a goal of 8 to 12 reps per session and challenge yourself as your core muscles grow stronger. Give your abdominal muscles plenty of time to recover by spacing your workouts at least 24 hours apart.
- Mayo Clinic.com: Slide Show: Exercises to Improve Your Core Strength
- Simple Fitness Solutions.com: The Truth About Training the Abdominal Muscles
- Spine Health.com: Abdominal Exercises
- Mayo Clinic.com: Core Exercises
- Body Building.com: Air Bike
- Ace Fitness.org: Supine Pelvic Tilts
- Ex Rx.net: Weighted Side Crunch
Joelle Dedalus began writing professionally for websites such as PugetSoundMagazine.com in 2009. She received her B.A. in English education at Iowa State University and is currently a M.F.A. candidate in creative nonfiction writing at Emerson College in Boston, where she is developing a manuscript on literary travel. Her areas of expertise include travel and literature, the outdoors and the arts.