How to Improve Core Stability Part 3: Challenging Your Core Muscles

Amelia Phillips

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This is part 3 of a 4 part series on the benefits of improving your core stability, and how you can improve yours.

If you have been following the exercises from core stability part 1 and core stability part 2, you would notice that these aren’t particularly difficult exercises, but they require intense concentration. Part 1 and 2, is about training the body to recruit the right muscles to stabilise the core, so now that we fully understand which muscles we should be using, it’s time to challenge them!

Single leg lift: Both legs off the floor

Start lying on your back with both feet off the floor and knees bent. In your last exercise you were slowly lowering one foot down to the floor whilst keeping your leg bent. This time, it’s the same activity but with the lowering leg now out straight. Remember the aim is to maintain spinal neutral at all times. Your back must not arch, nor should your rectus abdominis (six pack muscles) fire up and make your stomach poke out. Using the piece of string tied around your waist will help you recognise when these pesky six pack muscles have kicked in.

Double leg lift: bent knees
Same starting position, but keep both knees bent and lower your feet to the floor. A lot of people come undone in this exercise. Their hips tilt as they lower their feet, which causes the back to arch. Start with your feet touching the ground very close to your butt and as you get stronger, simply place your feet further and further away from your butt. Only advance this once your hips feel perfectly stable and your rectus abdominis isn’t doing all the work (they will have to kick in a little bit now that the exercises are becoming more demanding).

Double leg lift: straight legs
There are very few people who can actually do this exercise properly. I would not even suggest trying it until you have been doing specific core exercises for a minimum of three months. It’s the same starting position lying on your back. Extend both legs straight up towards the ceiling, and slowly lower them to the floor at the same time. At first you might get ½ way down before you feel your hips tilt and back arch. Just go as low as you can before the back arches, and come up. Over the coming weeks, your feet will slowly get to the floor.

With all of these exercises, you’re better off progressing slowly and being a perfectionist. Remember we are training neurological pathways to recruit the right muscles rather than overloading the body. Nail each stage perfectly before progressing to the next one. These exercises are great when done properly but very ineffective when not. Do these exercises 1-3 times per week mixed with your other training, 3 sets 12 reps of each stage, and within three months you should have progressed from the exercises in part 1 to these exercises in part 3. The next and final part of this core stability series will move into functional exercises. Good luck and please email any questions if you are unsure.

This is part of a 4 part series. Take a look at:

Core stability part #1: A remedy for back pain
Core Stabliity Part 2: The spinal neutral test

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  • Helder

    I just found your blog, and i like it. There are so many ways to train the core, my favorites are planks and vacuum stomach, if i talk about direct work, but my real favorite way to work the core is with compound exercises, like squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and chins.

  • Samantha

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  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Helder,

    Ahhh yes the plank, I am doing a blog on planks very soon. And yes of course functional exercises are the best way to train the core to do what it’s meant to – stabilize us while we move!

  • Amelia Burton

    Thanks Samantha,

    I know I certainly need help in my concentration… I should do these exercises!

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Helder,

    Yes I’d have to agree with you regarding those exercises. I also love working on the Bosu for the core. Ultimately nothing tests it like heavy squats, thats for sure!

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  • Sarah

    Hi Amelia – just wondering if you have any suggested exercises for someone who is reasonably fit but still has a separation in their stomach muscles post 3 pregnancies? Thanks, Sarah.

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