Stretching can be overrated! Now don’t get me wrong, it is essential, but even if you are ?exible enough to touch your toes, without the core strength to support your spine, you may be risking injury. My point is simply this; without core strength training, you are missing a signi?cant component of your physical ?tness.

One of my patients for example, a 45-year old man, had lower back pain for 20 years. He was ?t and a runner. He had been doing stretching exercises for many years to which he was committed as part of his ?tness routine. I suggested to him to suspend his stretching. He started doing core exercises as part of his ?tness regiment, and when he did, his back pain went away.

The stretching was harming his back because his core strength couldn’t support it. Once he improved his strength, he reintroduced stretching successfully into his routine.

Core strength means keeping all those muscles required to keep your body erect, whether sitting or standing, healthy. These include the abdominal muscles, lower back muscles, hip ?exors, buttock muscles, even your hamstrings and quads and also all the smaller stabilizing muscles required for good posture. Posture is the window to your spine and nervous system and is a crucial component of your well-being. Without a strong core, simple activities like reaching down to pick up a toy or bending down to unload the dryer may become problematic. A good, strong core will ultimately help you make dynamic or unilateral movements without injury.

Core Strength Exercises

The challenge with some core or abdominal exercises is that they can put a lot of stress/force on the back. There are ways, however, to achieve core and abdominal strength without harming or unnecessarily stressing your back.

Here are four core exercises you can do that will take you ?ve minutes and will work on activating your core muscles.

1) The Front Plank

2) The Side Plank

3) The “Superperson”

4) A to Z – it’s that easy!

The Front Plank

* Beginners: kneel on the ?oor and lean forward on your forearms keeping your spine straight.
* Intermediates: follow the same position but on your toes as in a push-up position.
* Advanced: try intermediate position while stabilizing your forearms on an exercise ball making you work harder to stay steady or you can stay on the ?oor and rock side to side on your forearms.

Hold the position until you can’t hold it any longer – for example
when your arms or legs begin to shake. Repeat three times.

The Side Plank

* Beginners: lie down on your left side, and lift your hips and thighs off the ground by holding yourself up on your left forearm (knees are on the ?oor).
* Intermediates: take the same position but make sure you keep your knees off the ?oor and put your weight on your left forearm and feet.
* Advanced: try holding a light dumbbell and moving it around to offset the center of gravity, making you work harder.

Hold as long as you can and repeat three times on each side. Take a 30 to 60 second break between repetitions.

The “Superperson”

* Beginners: get down on your hands and knees (like the yoga ‘table position’). Lift your right arm and left leg up: hold. Make sure that your hips don’t drop. Stay level from left to right with a straight back.
* Intermediates: use the same position on an exercise ball to increase the level of difficulty.
* Advanced: use the ball as intermediates, but add hand-weights and move your arm side to side while in the position to alter your center of gravity even more.

Alternate sides and do 12 reps each side.

A to Z – It’s That Easy!

* Beginners: sit on an exercise ball with your core muscles fully engaged and simply “write” the alphabet from A to Z with your hips moving back and forth and side to side.
* Intermediates: you can increase the challenge by holding small dumbbells in front of you while “writing” the alphabet with your hips.
* Advanced: as intermediates, move the dumbbells from side to side while doing your A to Z. This is also a great exercise for coordination.

For more great core exercises and other tips on living at your best, check out Dr. Nathalie’s book Wellness On The Go at

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Nathalie Beauchamp, B.Sc., D.C. is co-author of the book Wellness On The Go: Take the plunge – it’s Your Life! Dr. Beauchamp’s passion for wellness is infectious and she passes that along to her patients/clients through her expertise in the areas of fitness, nutrition, lifestyle and optimal health. Dr. Beauchamp is a chiropractor, a certified personal fitness trainer, a professional natural bodybuilder, a corporate wellness consultant and an inspirational speaker.