Conditioning Your Core

The Fab Ab Five: Conditioning Your Core
By Dr. Keith S. Overland

Who doesn’t want to be faster on the tennis court, have more power and move like a cat on the court? We all strive to become the best player we can be, but are you exercising properly to improve your tennis? Most people don’t. They pump iron to strengthen their arms, legs and shoulders, thinking that will give them more power and speed. They ignore, however, the most functional component of fitness – the body’s core.

Your abdomen, lower back and sides connect the powerful lower parts of your body with the upper parts that swing the racquet. If the core is weak, you will be unable to transfer the power you generate with your legs and hips up through your trunk to your arms and racquet. Your balance, agility and body control will be affected negatively as well. If the spinal and abdominal muscles of the core are in optimal condition, you’ll see great improvement in your power, speed, explosiveness and coordination.

You can strengthen your body’s core muscles with five simple exercises that take only a few minutes a day. These are not typical strength training exercises, but are known as functional or dynamic core-stabilization exercises. They help build endurance as well as strength, important because pain in the lower back is often from a lack of muscle endurance as well as muscle weakness.

Stabilization exercises use your bodyweight as resistance, often with a rubber gym ball, medicine ball or rollers as an aid.  The simple exercises I will show you will work the back extensor muscles, the rectus abdominal and the oblique abdominal muscles. These basic exercises will improve the movements that will help your tennis game. You can then add many advanced techniques to this starter program.

The Cat and The Camel:
The first exercise is called the Cat and Camel. Get on all fours on the floor, then slowly, deliberately and smoothly arch your back like a cat. Without stopping the movement, go right into flexing or humping your back like a camel. Your movement throughout the exercise should be continuous. Perform 5-6 times a day. (Photos 1 and 2)

Hips Up:
The second exercise focuses on the low back extensors and abdominal obliques. Lay on your side with your legs out straight. Put your top leg in front of your lower leg. Lift your upper body by resting on your elbow, which should be directly under your shoulder. Once in this position, brace your abdominals and lift your hips off the ground. Hold your body nice and straight; don’t twist or lean forward or back. Hold for 8 seconds and repeat here times. Then flip over and repeat on the other side. (Photo 3)

Abdominal Bracing:
The next exercise is called abdominal bracing. This exercise is performed by hollowing, or sucking in, your lower stomach while tightening the muscles around the entire lower abdominal area. Hold it for eight seconds. You should perform this exercise while standing, while sitting and also while lying down. In each of the positions, hold the muscles tight for eight seconds three times before moving to the next position. You can even do this while reading this article!

Bird Dog:
The next exercise, which we’ll call the Bird Dog, targets the low back extensors. On all fours, do the abdominal brace you learned above. While holding the brace, raise your left leg and right arm out and keep them as straight as possible without twisting your body. Hold this position for 8-10 seconds; repeat three times. Switch to the opposite arm and leg and do three sets for 8-10 seconds each.

Curl Up:
Last, the Curl Up targets the rectus abdominis muscles (the six-pack muscles below your ribcage). It is not necessary to do hundreds of sit-ups to strengthen these muscles. Lie on your back with one leg bent at the knee, the other out straight. This is a different position than most of you are familiar with, but the latest research has found that the best way to isolate the muscles and limit flattening the back is to do it with one knee bent. Once in this position, place your fingertips lightly on your forehead and then brace your abdominals. Now raise your head and shoulder blades off the floor (Photo 4). Hold this position for eight seconds and repeat three times. Then switch leg positions and repeat three times. Sounds easy, but try these a few times and you’ll see their effectiveness.



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