As you guys know, I am very passionate about strength training, rehab and building a functional physique. When I started this blog, I was talking more about general fitness, weight loss, and meal planning, but I was also fighting piriformis syndrome and trying to find a way to exercise and stay healthy.
When I published my very first blog post on piriformis syndrome – after finally starting to see some long-term relief – I was so overwhelmed by the feedback that post triggered. It was receiving more views and reads in a month than all my other blog posts combined. I realized that the world really didn’t need another weight loss blog and that there was a much bigger problem in the fitness and health world I couldn’t ignore.
Since then all my posts have been focused on the issue of chronic muscle pain, that is mainly originating from a combination of muscle imbalances, poor posture, bad diet, and a toxic mindset (read more about the mind-body connection here). As I always say, we have to stop isolating and addressing the whole body as ONE unit.
I am so thankful to see my audience’s awareness increase about this topic, and how this blog is helping them learn more about their bodies to create change. It came to my attention that the topic of core strengthening was still a bit confusing to many. They knew they needed to strengthen their core, and definitely tried some core strengthening exercises, but I’d get questions like these very frequently:
- How many core strengthening exercises can I start with?
- When do I strengthen my core, and how many times/day/weak do I need to do it?
- How long until I start seeing the effect of core strengthening?
So in this post, I am going to break down the topic of core strengthening and show you a simple step by step plan to follow to get started. I always try to keep my programs as simple as possible. We often tend to over-complicate things more than they need to be 🙂
As always, I created a video post for this since it’s easier to explain that way. If you can’t watch the video now, please scroll down for a summary!
How to Strengthen a Weak Core
Part 1: When to schedule Core Strengthening Exercises
I either schedule core strengthening earlier in the morning, or before my workouts. If you don’t like going to the gym, or find that sticking to an exercise program is hard, then wake up 15 minutes earlier to do your exercises, and get them out-of-the-way.
If you are currently going to a gym, you want to always start with some core activation exercises before your workouts, but you also want to avoid ab-focused exercises so you don’t fatigue your muscles too much. You want to activate not fatigue. If your outer core muscles are fatigued (visible abs), you will start compensating with other muscles to finish bigger compound movements.
Part 2: How to Strengthen a Weak Core
In order for you to strengthen your weak core, you want to follow a simple plan you can stick to. Here is a step by step plan you can follow starting today:
- Keep it low impact: every core strengthening routine needs to start with the easier exercise to perform. The exercises should still feel challenging but it should not feel tough to do. For example, a few repetitions of diaphragmatic breathing lying on the floor or standing is a good example. You are still putting the effort in but it doesn’t feel “dangerous” for you. All core exercises need to be low impact so you can focus all your attention on the mind-muscle connection rather than on just finishing the exercise for the sake of finishing it. I hope you see what I mean (if not, leave me a comment below)
- Focus on Diaphragmatic Breathing: you need to focus on deep belly breathing during every single core exercise. Shallow breathing shuts down your core and if you are pushing through the exercises without this in mind, you’ll be simply using your abs (outer muscles), and other hip muscles to get through the exercises. The moment you focus on deep belly breathing, you will start feeling your core expanding. I always feel like I have a belt around my spine when I do this.
- Start with 3-4 exercises: The key to core strengthening is to master the exercises, do them with good form, and assess your progress. If you start with a list of 10 exercises at once, you will feel overwhelmed, and won’t have an idea which exercises are working well for you. You need to start with a few exercises, really master them, improve every repetition you do, and until you start feeling very comfortable with them, that you can move to the next step.
- Add volume or intensity: Once you feel comfortable with the exercises, and they start getting easy, you’ll need to add some challenge. You can increase the number of repetitions (from 10 to 15), or add some intensity by making the exercises a little harder. For example, you can move from a plank on the knees to a regular plank. Bonus tip: Another way to make any core exercise harder is to slow down the repetitions. If you are doing a leg lift, count to 5 to get your way up, and another 5 to get your legs down. Slowing down the repetitions can be very challenging, so use that carefully.
- Assess: every 1-2 weeks, look at your exercise log, and assess. See if your strength increased and if you are experiencing less pain than before. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, but small improvements add up and compound to bigger, long-lasting changes in your body.
- Muscle Integration: As I mentioned before, we cannot isolate the body and expect to have a whole functioning unit. We always work with how the body likes to move. The core, glutes, and hamstrings like to work together. A good posture is key to staying away from muscle imbalances resulting from our sedentary lifestyle, and proper stretching is also needed to keep tissue healthy. Strengthening should target all important muscles groups AND should work hand in hand with other recovery and maintenance tools like postural therapy, foam rolling and stretching.
I hope this post was helpful, if you need more help with core strengthening, please check out the resources below. You can also comment below with your question 🙂 Until next time…stay strong!