Little Flower Family Practice - Sports Medicine

Core Strengthening Exercises


Focus on these core muscles for starters

The following muscles comprise the core group, which provides the stability and balance you need.

  • Transverse abdominus: Connects directly to the spine and pelvis on all sides; protects and stabilizes.
  • Diaphragm: A sheet of muscle and tendon dividing the torso in half. A strong diaphragm is vital; incomplete inhaling or exhaling decreases oxygen consumption, preventing muscles from relaxing.
  • Rectus abdominis: Runs from the central pubic bone connecting to the sternum. It flexes the spine.
  • External obliques: Course downward and inward bilaterally; involved in spinal flexion, flexion of the rib cage and the pelvic bones together, and lateral bending and rotating of the torso.
  • Internal obliques: Situated between the external obliques and the transverses abdominis, direction is down and out (opposite of the external obliques); they are involved in flexion and spinal rotation.
  • Multifidus: A deep spine extensor that attaches to the vertebrae and sacrum. Runs under the erector spinae and keeps posture erect.
  • Erector spinae: A group of three muscles runs along your neck to your lower back, rotates and extends the vertebral column.
  • Hip flexors and abductors (iliopsoas, rectus femoris, tensor fascia latae): These flex hips and upper thighs.
  • Hip adductors: Located at medial thighs, these extend the hips.
  • Gluteus medius and minimus: Side and back of hip, they abduct and medially rotate thigh.
  • Gluteus maximus: Upper back of hip, it extends thigh and torso and laterally rotates thigh.

Simple but vital core exercises

Posture and breathing: Strengthens the diaphragm. While sitting, feet flat on the ground, hands resting on thighs, pull your spine up, and engage your abdominal muscles by pulling in at the umbilicus, posterior pelvic tilt, or spinal flexion. Inhale deeply through your nose; then exhale slowly and gently through your mouth. Repeat five times. Hold your posture as you exhale. As you advance, hold your breath for five seconds—no longer—then exhale slowly.

Seated knee lifts for abdominals: Sitting on the edge of your chair, grasp the sides of the chair for support. With back straight and good alignment, maintain posture above, exhale pull knees toward chest as you crunch upper body forward using your abs—not your arms. Inhale while lowering your feet almost to the floor, but not touching until the last set. This movement is slow and controlled; let the abs do the work. Beginners do two sets of five, resting between sets. Gradually work your way to three or four sets of five with a shorter rest between sets.


Hip flexor for hips, upper thighs, and glutes: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, with one hand on the wall or chair for support, exhale, raising the left leg and keeping it bent at 90 degrees. Hold for a count of two to five, depending on your capacity. Inhale, and slowly lower your leg to the ground with a soft touch until last set. Repeat with your right leg. Do as many repetitions as you can.

Standing side bends: Stretches the obliques. Stand with legs hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Extend your arms over head, lift up and out through your rib cage, and reach about 10 to 20 degrees to the left without moving your lower body. Return to start position, and bend to opposite side to complete one repetition. Beginners should do two sets of five at 10 degrees; advance at your own pace.

The Superman: Works your lower back muscles. Lie face down on your mat, resting your forehead on a rolled-up towel. Keep your head and neck in a neutral alignment with your torso. Position your legs straight out and together, with your arms straight and extended above your head. Simultaneously lift your arms and legs up toward the ceiling to form a gentle curve with your body. Hold for a slow 15- to 30-second count. Do as many as you can. Don't hold your breath; breathe steadily and evenly.

Swimming: An alternative lower-back exercise that uses the same starting position as the Superman. Raise your left arm and right leg off floor. Lower and repeat with right arm and left leg. Don't lower arms or legs completely until the end of a set. Do as many as you can. Don't hold your breath.

A strong core is just a start

  • Invest in a pair of slip-resistant, supportive shoes. Comfortable, well-fitted shoes can make a day go much easier.
  • Decrease your stress level. Stress makes the muscles tense, increasing the chance of injury. Take a short five- or 10-minute walk. Listen to relaxing music during your break, or just stop and stretch for a few minutes.
  • Think good posture. Work at a comfortable height that does not require bending or stretching for any length of time. Improve your work environment by incorporating an ergonomics program. Workplace intervention programs have been found effective in reducing back injuries as well as other injuries.
  • Research indicates bad habits play a role as well. Not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight can make a difference.
  • Finally, make it your policy never to lift alone, under pressure, or when you're uncomfortable or unsure of how much you're lifting. Most important, listen to your body, before a small injury becomes a big one