Is Your Core as Strong as a Toddler’s?
By CHRIS REINBOLD
What if I asked you to picture the person with the strongest core that you've ever seen? Would it be Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig, Arnold Schwarzenegger? What if I told you that the answer to that question was toddlers? That's right, those chubby little people are stronger than a muscular full-grown man.
If you have or know a small child, get down on its level and do the stuff that it's doing. See how long it takes you to start straining or sweating. You don't see a wee one working with a stability ball or doing Mason twists or sit-ups, so what's the deal?
One of the main strategies is that toddlers perform a variety of movements in increasingly challenging positions as their brains and bodies mature. Examples of more challenging activities include rolling, crawling, reaching, squatting, carrying, pushing and pulling. Some of these may sound like normal activities during exercise because they are. More often than not, though, unlike babies, our focus is on how much we can move with these activities and not on how stable our "base" is while we perform them.
So switch up your mindset and think and act like a kid by trying these five exercises. You'll have to be mindful of how you perform them, but that's what separates us from monkeys. For each of these exercises, try to work your way up to three sets of 15 repetitions with an emphasis on how many reps you can do with proper form.
Rolling: Lie on your back with your hips and knees flexed to 90 degrees and arms straight out in front of you in the air. Tighten your stomach so that your lateral ribs come down towards your hips. If you don't quite get it, cough. Pay attention to what your core and ribs do. This is how you should tighten.
Keeping your hips and shoulders in the same plane, start to roll towards your side, stop halfway, slowly return. Perform on the other side. Don't forget to breathe!
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Quadruped Shoulder Flexion: Get on your hands and knees; make sure you lengthen your spine from your tail to your top. Keep the shoulders engaged by not allowing your chest to drop toward the floor.
Tighten your stomach as described earlier. Extend and raise one arm forward, with the palm facing inward (be sure not to let your form sag).
Feel for a weight shift from one knee to the other when you begin to raise your hand. Don't let this happen: This is the key to performing the exercise correctly.
Crawling: Use the same form as the previous exercise. However, rather than lifting your arm, slide one hand forward on the floor as the opposite knee slides forward at the same time.
Remember that weight shift you were looking out for? Same rules apply here: Don't let it happen.
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Goblet Squats: Spread your feet slightly wider than your hips. If you need to turn your toes out very slightly, it's OK.
Grasp a kettlebell by the horns and hold it to your sternum. If you don't have one, holding a dumbbell by one end will work in a pinch. Tighten your stomach as if you were coughing. Squat down as low as you can while making sure your knees stay over your toes.
Keep your stomach tight and hang out at the bottom of this squat for a couple of breaths. Then return to standing.
Suitcase Carry: Hold a kettlebell in one hand. (Yes, you really need a kettlebell for this exercise.)
Tighten the stomach (do I sound like a broken record yet?). Walk 20 yards, turn around, switch hands, and come back.
Making sure that you're exercising in different positions will lead to increased neuromuscular activity. This in turn challenges the response time, coordination and strength of your trunk muscles. With this type of training, you get to the true function of the trunk, which is to provide an adaptable, stable base around which our limbs can move.
If you focus your efforts on performing these activities and the rest of your exercise routine with proper form and recruitment patterns, all exercise turns into a "core workout," especially if it's the weakest link in your muscular chain.
Readers -- What are your go-to exercises for keeping your core strong? Do you do any of the ones mentioned above? How many times a week do you focus on core-only training? Did you find this article helpful? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Chris Reinbold, PT, D.P.T., OCS, CSCS, is a respected physical therapist in the U.S. Virgin Islands and has worked alongside some of the preeminent practitioners in his field during his time in Los Angeles.
His website, themovementexpert.com, describes his philosophy that movement is paramount to health, but great movement is necessary for great health.