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Beyond the benefits related to balance, a strong but flexible core will reduce pain and risk of future back pain, improve your posture and allow one to independently age in place for longer with reduced need for the healthcare system.
Your core muscles for the base for all movement. Take walking for example. It may seem as though your feet and legs would be the starting point for the activity. This is not the case. To initiate a step, your core muscles fire to create a stable base so then your hip flexors can lift your leg. This happens in milliseconds, but you can see the need for a stable core for even the most routine activities.
As we age, we lose flexibility, muscle tone and strength. Unfortunately, both of these changes are part of the normal aging process. Although these declines with aging and the impairments caused can be slowed down with improved diet, proper hydration, as well as strength training and stretching.
The core is made up of 29 muscle pairs. Each pair acts in opposition to stabilize your trunk. The top is formed by the diaphragm. The bottom is the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature. The front of the core is abdominals and the back is the small paraspinal muscles running along the spine and the larger gluteal muscles.
For those of you looking for core exercises for seniors but are just beginning the process, start with the side bending and trunk rotations for flexibility and then progress to the plank progression for strengthening. Remember, if you do not feel stable with these activities, and evaluation with a physical therapist may be needed to determine a safe exercise program.
Side bends: This can be done in sitting or standing. Start in standing with your feet shoulder width apart and hands at your sides. Reach as far down one leg as you can without twisting. Pause at the end for a 5 second hold. Return to neutral and reach as far down the opposite leg as you can. Return to neutral. Do this 5-10 times to each side.
Trunk Rotations: This can be done in sitting or standing, the important thing is to have a stable base. Keeping your hips neutral, reach with your right arm across your body to the left while rotating your shoulders to the left. Pause at the end for just a second and return to the starting position. Then reach with your left arm across your body to the right while rotating your shoulder with you to the right. Pause for a second at the end and then return to neutral. Repeat the 10 times to each side.
Plank Progression: Start with the wall plank. Once you can hold the position 3x for 1 minute each without pain or breaking proper posture, move to the next position.
Wall Plank: Stand facing a wall about an arm’s length away with fingers extended. Lean in to the wall until your palms are flat against it. Walk your hands up the wall until they are at the level of your ears. Now lean into the wall until you are resting on your elbows and forearms. You should be on the balls of your feet and feel your core activate. Remember to keep your shoulders, back and hips straight and avoid sagging. Work up to being able to hold this for 1 minute 3x and then progress to the next level.
The next 3 levels of planking for core stability require getting on the floor or at least to your knees. If you are not able to safely get down to the ground and back up again, wait until your trunk and lower extremity strength has improved to allow for improved ability to achieve these positions.
Kneeling Plank with Chair: For this exercise, you will need a sturdy chair. Using the chair for stability, go down to your knees. “Walk” backwards on your knees until your hands are on the front of the seat of the chair. Lean into the chair and go down to your elbows/forearms. It is OK for your palms to be flat on the chair, but it may be more comfortable to have your hands in the thumbs up position. Make sure to keep a flat back and feel your core engage. Hold this position for 10 seconds to 1 minute, but stop and rest if you can't hold your back straight as sagging can lean to low back pain.
Kneeling Plank: This is very similar to the “kneeling plank with chair”, but instead of using the chair, the plank is held with knees and forearms on the ground. Be sure to keep a flat back between your hips and shoulders. Hold this position for 10 seconds to 1 minute, but stop and rest if you can't hold your back straight as sagging can lean to low back pain.
Full Plank: This is the toughest position: Prop on elbows as in the kneeling plank, but instead of having your knees on the ground, lift up on your toes. Keep a flat back and make sure your shoulders and hips do not sag. If you can reach this position and hold it for any length of time you are doing very well with your core strength and stability.
Remember if any of the progressions lead to low back pain this means your core is not yet strong enough for this position for that amount of time. Reduce time held in the position to a point before pain comes on, or return to an easier position and increase the time you are holding it to continue to increase your core strength.
That is all for today. Take care, keep mom safe and have a great day!