Strong core benefits mobility

Bear plank with shoulder taps: Start off with a elevated planks on your hands and position your legs at 90°. With your right hand, touch your left shoulder and with your left hand touch your right shoulder.

Your core muscles play a huge role in your everyday activities, from getting out of bed, to walking down the street, and bending over to grab your purse-but, most importantly, they literally help you stay upright. Your core is the powerhouse of all of your movements, so you need to build enough core strength before you can build strength anywhere else. Shaheem Laattoe, personal trainer, who lost weight through exercise and nutrition, spoke to ROSHAN ABRAHAMS and shared a few examples of core exercises with its benefits that anyone can do in the comfort of their homes.

Shaheem also challenges readers to a five-day a week core exercise routine.

When Shaheem’s weight was 110kg back in the day, one of the common symptoms caused by the lack of core strength was “backache. “Poor posture when walking or seated, you tend to let the body just do what it wants to, for example, slouch forward because pulling your shoulders back and chest out, keeping your core tight is too much work.”

He said a lack of core strength also did not allow him to ”walk for long periods of time.”

When asked what abs (abdominal muscles) are he said it’s a muscle group like your “six pack”. I like to think of the core as a lady’s corset. It’s all the muscles in the midsection – abs and back muscles that work together to hold up your body weight.”

One of the best things about exercises for core strengthening is that they rarely require equipment and are easy to do at home. “To work the core most of the time we think of planks. So we head to the floor. However, there’s a variety of variations to do on the floor, like a plank on your elbows, side planks, elevated planks (on your hands) and when lying on your back when doing flutter kicks or zig-zags.

“Holding a plank for a period of time is a good place to start but you can move your hands, limbs, feet, etc, which will make the plank variations even more challenging because your hips will start to move back and forth and keeping your hips straight and core tight is also a challenge.”

Core exercises can be done on a daily basis. “You can do a different variation daily or do a day of planks and the next day, do a variation of ab crunches.”

We asked Shaheem to list five core exercises anyone can do using only their body weight.

1. Crunch – Lie on your back, feet rested on the ground with knees up. Extend your arms all the way over your head. Slowly lift your upper back from the floor by curling your upper body towards your knees, lifting your arms through the movement and try to touch your knees, without stressing your neck. While working the upper body activating the upper abdominals, also be aware of your hips throughout the motion. Tilt the hips towards you so you can get a contraction from the top and bottom and when you have reached your knees, hold for two seconds = one rep. Do 12 reps at a controlled pace for three sets.

2. Reverse Crunch – Start by lying the same way on the floor as above, hands next to the body and focus on lifting/rolling the hips towards you, mainly focusing on the lower abdominals. It can be very difficult for some people to do because of weak abdominals and/or being overweight. If this is the case, extend your legs all the way, bring your knees towards your chest and lift your hips. Here you are using a little bit of momentum to assist you, then later you can move on to the regular reverse crunch. Do 12 reps of three sets.

3. Side Rotation – This core exercise targets your side abdominals. Sit on the floor, legs extended softly, knees up, lean slightly back. Here you will already feel your core activate and balance as you try to maintain this V sit. Arms straight, then twist to your right, hold for a second and twist to left and hold for a second too. That’s one rep, do 10 reps of three sets.

4. Bridge – The bridge, also called the pelvic tilt, strengthens the muscles in your abdomen and glutes. Lie on your back. Feet at 90° against a wall and hands next to the body. Lift your hips by pushing your feet against the wall – that’s one rep, do 12 reps of three sets.

5. Plank – A core exercise, keeping the body in a static position while on the floor. A variation of a plank is the side plank (Perform side planks by balancing on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder, touching the floor with your forearm and the side of your foot. While activating your core muscles, lift your hip until your body forms a straight line.

Spiderman plank is another core exercise. (A beginner variation is to get in a high plank position with your hands under your elbows, and your elbows under your shoulders). Perform the move as usual, bringing your knee to your elbow, trying to keep your hips flat and even as you move.

Bear plank with shoulder taps is another variation (see description under the photograph).

Shaheem challenges readers to ease into doing these core exercises on a regular basis and it can start as one set a day until you feel strong enough to do more.

As the saying goes “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right” by Henry Ford, Shaheem echoed: “The same voice who says, ‘give up’ can also be trained to say ‘keep going’.”

• People with pre-existing medical conditions should consult with a family physician before starting an exercise programme.