Beginner Core Exercises should be simple, single plane movements that are safe, simple, and effective.
Unfortunately, that is not always what you will find in much of our online and print media in the era of insane and extreme exercise and fitness.
You might already know, if you are a regular reader of this blog or know me from elsewhere, that as a Pilates and Fitness trainer I specialize in working with people in pain. Most of my clients have lower back pain due to disc herniations, spinal fusions, severe scolioisis, and stenosis. And many have been hurt by other trainers.
Were these fitness and pilates trainers bad or unqualified? Absolutely not!
Did these trainers feel the need to keep upping the ante by making things always more intense and complex? Why, yes!
Surprisingly, other than a few modifications, my approach to all of my clients is similar. I look to stabilize the torso first, only working on small bits of flexibility as needed to strengthen the stabilizers. Once I see the stability happening, which means the stabilizing muscles are working, I then work a bit more with mobility as needed and tolerated.
This is how Joseph Pilates presented his system of exercises, so I am not going outside of classical Pilates here. And this is how I approach all exercises, even TRX and kettlebell training.
So I decided to do a general overview of what was out there for beginner core exercises, starting with a basic Google search.
And generally I found complex exercises that require a good spotter, or great exercises presented in more advanced forms, instead of the most simple and safe.
Why? Because trainers feel the push towards more extreme workouts. Clients are back into beating ourselves up in the gym, or at the barre or bootcamp, or even at home with our insane dvds.
Beginner exercises should be simple, but extremely intense and effective, so a person can quickly progress to more fun and exciting complex and intense movements.
Here is what I give many of my clients for Basic Core Exercises. All of these are easy to do at home and all are present somewhere in Pilates.
Note that these exercises start very simply and close to the ground, but when you do them correctly you shake and sweat and have a pretty intense experience.
You start always with short levers - knees bent and elbows bent and work on maintaining torso stability and getting all of your core muscles to work together to keep your parts steady. When that is easy, progress to longer levers, and even to fewer levers, but maintain the same stability.
Here is the explanation of a plank that I read this morning. Note there is no mention of modifications or variations, or is there any mention of the role of the abdominal muscles here. And if you fire your glutes without also using your abs, this will most likely hurt your back instead of helping it:
Push-up plank: A plank is an isometric core exercise that involves maintaining a strict, straight position for an extended period of time. I like to see my clients maintain a solid 30-second plank for three sets both front and side. This shows good core endurance and that the person is able to handle more advanced exercises.
How to do it: Plant the hands directly under the shoulders (slightly wider than shoulder-width apart) like you’re about to do a push-up. Ground the toes into the floor and squeeze the glutes to stabilize the bottom half of the body. Neutralize the neck and spine by looking at the floor about a foot in front of the hands. The head should be in line with the back. Hold the position for 20 seconds to start out.
As fitness and Pilates trainers, we need to be very careful with what we put out there for free public consumption - we need to focus on beginner core exercises that are safe, simple, and effective.