MOVE Wellness owner Elaine Economou shares everyday exercises for a strong core and healthy back.

Originally published on ClickonDetroit.

A while back, I wrote about shifting our perspective of the core beyond the traditional media image of a hard “six-pack.” My hope is that by encouraging people to understand the anatomy of our core, we can build a well-rounded movement routine that supports strength and muscle balance.    

As a mother and CEO of my business and my household, taking care of my own body has not always taken top priority. I witness this attitude among many people I know as well: I’ll exercise once my kids leave for college..I’m not athletic…I’m too busy. Ack!

So let’s shift the way we think of movement. My mantra is “take your vitamins.” Ask your doctor about the ones you swallow but I strongly encourage a movement vitamin in the form of gentle warm ups and simple exercises. I know now – after learning the hard way – that when I don’t do some focused movement every day, it is a slippery slope to back discomfort. Consistently practicing these traditional Pilates exercises below has made a huge difference.

You know how the flight attendants suggest that when you travel with kids that you put your oxygen mask on first? Think of these exercises like that. The benefits will manifest as a slow and steady increase in strength, mobility, stability and yes, energy to do what you love.

The workout should take about twenty minutes, and it includes exercises we use with our clients at MOVE Wellness Studios. In order to get the most out of these exercises, here are some notes for success:

  • Only do as many repetitions that you can manage with good form. Good form for these abdominal exercises means keeping your pelvis stable (not allowing your low back to arch) and your abdominal muscles “hollowed” or pulled tight against your spine.  Once your abs start to fatigue, rest.
  • Good form also includes keeping your chest open and wide.  We often cue the collar bones and your shoulders to stay wide as you move.  
  • Go slow and add repetitions as your endurance increases.  It is absolutely normal to start with toe taps for a week or more before adding the next exercise.  
  • If your back or neck hurts, stop and rest.
  • Get help from a fitness professional or PT if you have had abdominal surgeries, or have been pregnant and you don’t feel your abdominal muscles working. Same if you feel strain in your low back or neck consistently.    
  • Each day you can layer in each exercise and additional repetitions as you get stronger.  

Your Six Safe Core Exercises:

1) Lateral Rocking

Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on your mat or floor, right next to each other.  Hands are out to the sides of the body in a “T” shape. Start with gentle rocking of the knees to one side and then the other side, not moving too far in either direction. Breathe as you move, and use this at first as a gentle warm up for your back and hips.  Repeat 6-8 sets to warm up. Then, let your knees fall closer to the floor on one side. Using your abdominals, exhale to pull your legs back to upright. Keep switching sides using the breath and your abs to pull your legs upright.

2) Toe Taps

Lying on your back with your knees in tabletop (knees bent and lifted, shins parallel to the floor) with your arms long by your side and gently pressing down into the mat.  Draw your abdominals in and pull your ribs down and toward your hips. Don’t let your pelvis move during the exercise and keep your abdominals and ribs from popping up or out.

Movement: Exhale and start to reach one toe toward the mat.  When you feel that your pelvis might move, lift the leg back up.  Alternate feet for 8 sets or as many as you can do while keeping your pelvis stable.

3) Single Leg Stretch

Start in the same position as above and lift your upper body off the mat. Focus on moving into position by drawing the rib cage down with your abdominal muscles and releasing any tension in your neck. Reach your hands toward your knees.  

Movement: Exhale and extend one leg long, keeping the opposite knee pulled in toward the chest. Inhale and move back through the starting position.  Exhale and switch legs. Alternate for 8 sets or as many as you can do while keeping your pelvis stable and abdominals connected.

4) Criss Cross/Obliques

Start in same position as Single Leg Stretch with hands clasped behind head.

Movement: Extend one leg long and keep the opposite knee pulling in toward the chest while crossing the ribs toward the bent leg while exhaling.  Inhale through the center and exhale while switching legs. Keep chest and elbows wide. Alternate for 8 sets or as many as you can do while keeping your pelvis stable and abdominals connected.

5) Scissors

Start in same position as Criss Cross with legs extended above hips and hands reaching toward knees.  

Movement: Exhale and reach one leg toward the floor as the opposite leg reaches toward the ceiling and possibly in toward your chest. Keep feet pointing. Inhale as you switch legs.  Emphasize the length of the leg reaching long. Use the exhale (traditionally there are two pulsating exhales here) to help deepen the contraction of the abs. Alternate for 8 sets or as many as you can do while keeping your pelvis stable and abdominals connected.

To finish:

Hug your knees into your chest and slowly rock side to side.  Then, stretch your arms over your head and your legs long on the floor.  Take a few breaths while actively stretching your body on the inhale and releasing into the floor on the exhale. Take a final breath and allow the weight of your body to rest into the floor. Scan your body from head to toe, and stretch in areas that feel tight. Slowly rise to your feet and take a second to feel long and tall before you go on with your day.  

I hope it is a good one!  

Feel free to email me with questions, elaine@movewellness.com.