Lying down to “strengthen your core” is sooo 20th century. If you’re looking the best core exercises that can help you to reach your goals, consider doing them from a standing position!
Let me ask you a question: how do you feel when you’re lying down? Does your energy go up or do you find yourself getting drowsy and ready to fall asleep? The chances lying down makes you calm and relaxed.
Did you know that when the body is lying horizontal that it’s a natural sedative actually reducing nervous system communication to the muscles? That’s because lying down is a signal that your body is at rest and getting ready to go to sleep.
Does this sound like the optimal environment for exercise? No, not at all!
Core training is an extremely popular exercise trend that can provide many benefits from improving aesthetic appearance to reducing low-back soreness. Any muscle which attaches the legs to the pelvis, the pelvis to the spine and rib cage or simply runs along the spine can be considered a muscle involved with either stabilizing or moving the core. There are a number of different ways to strengthen these muscles with the most effective exercises being ones that train the core muscles when the body is standing up in a vertical position. Lying down for core training does not fully engage the muscles of the hips, abdominals and low-back and can lead to muscles imbalances that could eventually cause injury.
Here are reasons why core training from a standing position can be better for your body:
1 It’s important to understand that the musculoskeletal structure of the human body is designed to operate most effectively when standing upright while reacting to the forces caused by gravity and ground reaction. The body is designed to function most efficiently while using gait, either walking or running, as the primary means of locomotion.
2 If we can understand how core muscles function during gait, then we can develop an understanding of how to strengthen them properly. When you’re walking your left leg will swing forward at the same time as your right arm – this causes the pelvis and spine to counter-rotate, as the right arm swings forward, the left arms swings backwards causing the rib cage to rotate to the left on the thoracic spine; at the same time the left leg is swinging forward while the right is moving back into extension causing the pelvis to rotate to the right. (the photo above shows an exercise replicating this action).
3 Many people, including several popular social media “fitness influencers” fail to realize these fundamental biomechanics; the muscles of the core are designed to facilitate these actions making them smooth and efficient. Based on the structures of the spine and muscular system, the function of the core is to be the transmission of the body responsible for using forces created by gravity and ground reaction to create forward motion while walking. That’s right; the actual purpose of our core muscles is to work effectively and efficiently while the body is standing in an upright, vertical position.
If the trunk rotates over the pelvis when you walk does lying on the ground to do a typical crunch in a single plane of motion look like the most effective way to enhance core strength? Probably not.
4. Effective core training requires using exercises which integrate the hips, trunk and shoulders in order to efficiently distribute the forces (gravity, ground reaction and momentum) responsible for producing upright movement. Start your core strengthening workout using exercises like the high plank (first image) or glute bridge (see below) before progressing to standing exercises like the ones on this page.
If we truly want to train the core the way it is designed, GET OFF THE FLOOR and train the muscles from a standing position so they learn how to stabilize the body in a field of gravity. Doing exercises from a standing position can help integrate the actions of both lower and upper-body muscles helping them to improve their ability to generate the strength to move the body in multiple directions.
5. When you’re building a house, which happens first? Laying the foundation or picking our the window dressings? Having a foundation of strength is important for optimal long-term results; exercises on the floor
like front planks, side planks and glute bridges can help create a create a foundation of strength that can be improved with more challenging exercises as your strength levels improve. NOTE: while these exercises seem ‘basic,’ not only can they help you lay a solid foundation, they should also be used as part of a dynamic warm-up for EVERY workout because they are a low-intensity way to activate the muscles that stabilize the spine while stretching the muscles around the hips that can become tight from a day of sitting at work (or a night of sleeping in bed – for those of you who are early-bird exercise addicts).
6. As your core strength improves start doing more challenging exercises in a standing position. Barbell deadlifts train the core muscles to lift heavy weights from a static position. Single leg exercises require core muscles to work harder to create stability so you don’t topple over. Finally, using unique pieces of equipment like medicine balls, sandbags or a cool tool called the ViPR Pro can allow you to challenge your body in a number of ways. Check out the video below to see one of my favorite core training workout programs.
Look, there are many ways to exercise and not one single way will provide solutions for everyone reading this blog. My advice is
based on my 20 years of experience as a personal trainer and 15 years as a leading educator in the fitness industry – I have literally traveled the world to teach education workshops for major organizations like Nautilus, StairMaster and the American Council on Exercise. The important thing is that you learn the best ways to exercise for your specific needs.
To do that, pick up a copy of my book Smarter Workouts: the Science of Exercise Made Simple and listen to the All About Fitness podcast where I interview top experts on how to use the science to exercise to improve your quality of life – CLICK ON THE LINK IN THE LOGO -to listen to an interview with Dr. Stuart McGill – one of the world’s leading experts on the biomechanics of the spine.