Exercises for Women to Develop Core Strength
To begin with, what is the core? It's the group of muscles which supports your upper torso and connects your lower and upper body together. It includes the front abdominals, the side abdominals (obliques), and the lower back muscles. Believe it or not, all movement begins at the core. Regardless of what you are doing, your core will be activated.
Try coughing. Now, poke your tummy. Notice your core tightening each time? Stand up and touch the ground with your fingers without bending your knees, then straighten your body. Your core is lowering you and raising you up.
When you're standing or sitting straight, the core supports your upper body and keeps it rigid like a natural corset.
Even though the core is one of the most important muscle groups in the body, most people don't do enough to strengthen it. Some people will do crunches or sit-ups, but these are not core exercises. They only activate the front abs. A true core exercise is one where all facets of the core are engaged, including the front, sides, and lower back.
In my experience, one of the main reasons why people have lower back pain is because they have a weak core. It is not strong enough to support their upper body. For women, this is a big concern because we are a little top heavy. :)
For this reasons, we need more support than men. This workout was not specifically designed for women, but it's definitely something women should do at least once a week. It appears in the P90X2 workout DVD program. I'm reviewing it separately to discuss how this workout can help women develop their core strength without the need for fancy equipment. It is designed to be done at home.
P90X2 Core is the introductory workout in P90X2. It is about 55 minutes long, give or take. It consists of a series of eighteen exercises. Each exercise lasts about 1-2 minutes. Every exercise will recruit the lower abs, upper abs, lower back, obliques, or all of the above. The emphasis in this workout is balance and slow, controlled movements to really get those core muscles involved. Correct form is critical. Along with Tony Horton, the trainer, there are three demonstrators who will show you how to do each exercise correctly.
You can also check out this demonstration video of me below:
To do this workout correctly, I strongly recommend that you invest in a stability ball and a medicine ball (a basketball may be substituted). A foam roller and yoga mat are optional in my opinion. You can skip most of the warmup exercises which involve the foam roller without compromising this workout. One of the fitness demonstrators will show you how to do the exercises without any of the recommended gear.
Core Warmup Exercises
These warmups will get your core ready for some serious action. They are all low impact.
Side to Side Twist. This warmup uses a stability ball. Stand upright with your feet apart greater than shoulder width. Hold the stability ball with both hands while your arms are outstretched in front of you. Twist your torso from side to side. Pivot your feet slightly to extend the twist. This stretch will do wonders for your lower back.
Squats. Stand with a stability ball grasped with both hands while your arms are outstretched in front of you. Lower your body into the squat position. Squat only to where your thighs are parallel to the floor. You don't have to go all the down. As you lower yourself, raise your arms above your head. Reach as far as you can with the stability ball. Return to the standing position and repeat 5-6 times. This will heat up the quads, gluts, and shoulders.
Side Stretches. Stand with the stability ball held directly over your head with both arms straightened. Lean your torso to one side for a few seconds, then to the other side. Repeat 5-6 times. This will stretch to your lats and obliques.
Lunges. Basic lunges with a stability ball raised over your head. Your quads and gluts will feel the burn.
Cross body bend and reach with stability ball. Basically, you are bending, twisting, and reaching with a stability ball. Stand with feet wide apart holding a stability ball in front of you. Bend down and touch the stability ball to the ground on the right side of your feet. Then, twist your torso as you raise yourself up and reach as far as you can to the left side.
Foam roller exercises. Rather than boring stretching exercises, you will spend the next two minutes or so foam rolling. Use the foam roller to release and massage your muscles. This segment is free form.
Chest and shoulder openers. This exercise is called "angels" in the workout. Lie on your back with a foam roller underneath you so that the length of the foam roller is aligned with the length of your spine. Keeping your shoulders, elbows, and hands as close to the ground as possible, move your arms parallel to the fllor to stretch out your chest and back.
Low plank hold. This exercise is also known as the "sphinx." Get in low plank position with both elbows on the foam roller. Keep your entire body straight, rigid and aligned from top to bottom. Try not to let your bug sag or stick up. Hold this position for about 30 seconds. This exercise might seem hard at first, but with practice, your core will get stronger and it will become easy.
Deep runner's stretch with low squat. Basically, you are in the deep runner's stretch position, with one leg bent in front and the other straight and extended behind you as far as possible. Raise one arm towards the ceiling so that it is perpendicular to the floor while keeping the other palm firmly planted on the ground, then switch arm positions. Repeat these series of movements several times, alternating sides.
Moving hamstring stretches. Tony Horton calls this the "inchworm." From standing position, bend over and slowly walk your hands forward until your body is in the low plank position. Instead of reversing yourself to get back up to the standing position, you will slowly walk your feet up to your hands (which remain stationary on the ground). Turn around and repeat 3-4 times.
Lower back stretches. This warmup is call the "scorpion." Lie on the ground face down. Your arms are outstretched to your sides. Your shoulders are touching the ground. Your legs are outstretched and aligned with the length of your body. Raise one leg off the ground. Drive the heel towards the ceiling, bending it slightly towards your head. The leg looks like a scorpion stinger at this point. Then, twist the leg to the opposite side of the body. Keep both shoulders firmly planted on the floor as you are moving the leg. Return the leg to the ground and repeat for the other side. Your lower back will feel amazing.
Groin stretches. Get in the plank position with one leg bent and the other straight behind you. Alternate moving the legs. This will stretch out the inner thighs, gluts, groin area, and hamstrings.
The Main Core Exercises
Low plank cross crunch. This exercise begins in the low plank position with your body straight, legs extended, head aligned with the body, and your forearms and toes touching the floor. While keeping your back straight, bend one leg so that the knee touches the opposite elbow. Do not raise your butt as you do this. Then, straighten the leg and do the same for other side. This exercise will really activate your obliques, but will also recruit the other parts of your core in order to stabilize your body as you perform the knee-to-elbow touches.
Cross crunch in table position. Start in the lunge position. Quickly but in a controlled fashion move into the "table" position. That is, your arms are outstretched over your head, your torso is bent over at a 90-degrees angle to your waist while at the same time one leg is raised and extended behind you at a 90-degrees angle to your waist, and the other leg on the ground for support. In perfect table position, your arms, torso and extended leg are aligned in a straight line, forming “T” with the supporting leg. Maintain table position for 1-3 seconds. As you return to standing position, don't let the foot of the extended leg to touch the floor. Bend the knee of the extended leg and touch the opposite elbow to the knee. Repeat for 10-15 reps, then do the same for the other leg. This exercise engages the lower back muscles and gluts while you are in table position, but will activate the front abs and obliques when you do the knee-to-elbow touch. Expect the supporting leg to shake, rattle, and roll 30 seconds into the exercise.
One legged walk outs to low plank. Begin in the standing position with one foot slightly off the floor. Slowly squat down on one leg and walk out using your hands into the low plank position while maintaining the raised foot off the floor. Then, walk your hands backwards up into the upright position while remaining balanced on one leg. Repeat for 10-15 reps, then do the same for the other leg.
Side leg raises. Get into the side plank position with your entire body supported on one arm. Straighten and raise the other arm from your side to above your head, while simultaneously raising the non-supporting leg as high as possible. Do at least 10 reps without lowering your body.
Back roll to boat position. This is called the "roller boat" in the workout. This exercise incorporates the yoga "boat" position. Begin by lying on your back on a yoga mat with your legs tucked to your chest and wrapped in place with your arms. Roll your body forward and at the peak stop your roll and extend your legs and arms into the boat position (legs raised off floor, arms parallel with legs, and torso straight). Hold for this position for 2-5 seconds, then roll backwards to the balled up lying position. Repeat 10-15 times.
Medicine ball pushup. This exercise might be really hard for some women because many do not have the upper body strength. Keep practicing, however, and you'll get strong enough to do them with ease. When I first started working out, I could barely do one pushup. Start in the plank position with a medicine ball underneath your chest. Push off so that your entire upper body leaves the floor. As you come down, land with your hands grasping the medicine ball. Release the ball and return to the plank position. Do 25-30 reps. You can modify by bending your knees while you do the pushups.
One legged side leap with squat. Start in the upright position. Hop to one side, landing on one leg. Maintain the one-legged balance position. Squat down slightly and touch the toe of the support leg with the opposite hand. Return to the upright position, but don't let the raised foot to touch the ground. Now, hop to the opposite side and repeat all the movements. Do about 12-20 reps. Your entire core with be engaged to keep your balance while you are performing each movement in a controlled fashion.
Stability ball circles. Get into the low plank position with your forearms on a stability ball and your toes touching the ground. Using your core, move your body in a circular motion clockwise on the stability ball. Switch to counter-clockwise motions after 30 seconds. For added intensity, raise one leg off the ground as you do the rotations.
Lunge leaps. Start in the lunge position. Leap straight up into the air with one arm reaching for the ceiling and one knee raised towards your chest. Land into to the lunge position. Do about 15-20 reps and repeat for the other side. This is one of the few high impact exercises in this workout.
Backwards roll with medicine ball. Begin in the standing position while holding a medicine ball at chest level. Roll backwards to the ground. As you reach the bottom of the roll, drive your legs towards the ceiling so that they are perpendicular to the ground. Your feet should not move past your shoulders. In one smooth motion, roll forward using momentum to move your body back into the upright position. When your feet make contact with the ground, leap straight up into the air while driving the medicine ball towards the ceiling. Do 12-15 reps. This move will activate your entire midsection.
One legged plank burpees. Get into the plank position with the palms of your hands resting on a stability ball. Hold this position while raising one leg off the ground. Hop so that the supporting leg moves as close as possible to the stability ball. Then, hop back into the plank position without letting the other foot touch the floor. Do a pushup in between each hop. Repeat for 10-15 reps, then do the same for the other side.
Banana crunch. Basically, a banana roll using a medicine ball or stability ball. Begin by lying on your back in the "banana position," feet slightly elevated and your arms outstretched while holding a medicine ball or stability ball behind your head. Your body should be curved like the fruit. Sit up and move your arms and legs together, using your butt as the balance point. When your arms and legs meet, transfer the medicine ball or stability ball and place it between your ankles. Return to the banana position. Do 10-15 reps. Your core, especially the lower abs, will protest loudly.
Alternating squat press. Begin in the low squat position while holding a medicine ball at chest level. Stand upright all the way to your tiptoes and press the medicine ball towards the. Lower yourself back into the low squat position and stand up on your tip toes, this time reaching with the medicine ball to the right side of your body. Repeat the squats, each time alternating reaching between the center, right, and left.
Mountain climber on stability ball. These are oblique crunches while performed on a stability ball. Get into the low plank position with your forearms resting on top of the stability ball. Bend one leg and touch your knee to the elbow. Return to the low plank position and do the same for the other leg. Do not let your butt pop up.
Standing pushups. Get into a standing position with your legs wide apart and knees slightly bent. Drop down onto your hands and lower your body as if doing a pushup, but keep your knees bent. Push yourself upwards, using your arms to drive your body back into the standing squat position. Do not walk back to standing position using your hands. Instead, push off with enough force to move your body backwards. It should be one fluid motion from bottom to top.
Low plank twist crunch. Start in the side low plank position, with your body on one side and supported by one forearm. Using the free arm, twist your body in order to reach below past your chest, then raise the arm to the sky. Finish the move by touching your palm to the foot of the non support leg. Move the leg up to meet the palm. Repeat 10-15 times. You must maintain the side balanced position until you complete all reps. Repeat for the other side.
One legged burpee with medicine ball. This is the same exercise as plank burpees discussed above, but with a medicine ball. It's harder than it looks.
That's it. The workout is done. You hardly did any hopping, running, or jumping, but you might notice that you're sweating like crazy. That's because practically every inch of your body has been worked out.
I've done this workout many times already, and still do not find it to be easy, especially when I'm doing each exercise as perfectly as possible. The key to getting the most benefit is to get your form right. Make sure your core is engaged.
The good thing is that it is mostly low impact, so no worries about throwing your body out of whack.
I used to have serious lower back pain. I would wake up in the morning and spend at least 15 minutes trying to get out of bed because I would have to do all kinds of self adjustments to my back to make the pain go away.
Today, my lower back pain is mostly a thing of the past. This is one of the workouts that helped me achieve a pain free life. If you suffer from regular back pain, I can't recommend this workout enough (and P90X2 overall). Most of the time, there's nothing wrong with your spine. The problem lies with your core.
When you develop your core, it will act like a corset, wrapping around your entire midsection to give support to your entire body and keep it rigid.
Women who do these core exercises will likely get relief from back pain like I did.
Do you have any questions about this article about core exercises for women or anything relating to health, fitness, and weight loss? Email me at connectwithJade@getresponse.com. I love to hear from my readers!