Hello everyone and thank you for stopping by. I recently wrote a post talking about what core exercise is. Someone left a comment on that post inquiring about the best warm-up exercises to do before you start working your core. In this post, I will discuss ways to get your core warmed up and ready to go.
Warming up is a very important component of not only working on your core but also any muscle group in your body. You can’t go full speed on the freeway until you turn the car engine on first. For someone like me who has back problems, warming up is really critical. Check out this post regarding the importance of a warmup.
Is warming up necessary?
There are a lot of theories out there as to whether or not warming up, or specifically stretching is good before working out. I will tell you from my own personal experience, from a guy with back problems that for me warming up is critical.
I have been dealing with back problems most of my adult life. A few years ago I had a pretty traumatic injury, blowing a disc and spraining my SI joint. I was doing things in the gym that I just shouldn’t have been doing, especially given my history of back trouble. During the first four months of my recovery, I was bent over at the waist about 30 degrees, due to spinal stenosis from the blown disc. It was not a fun time in my life, to say the least. It took about 6 months to get back to the point I could start to work out again and then it was with caution.
For me warming up is a necessity
One of the things I learned during the process of getting back into shape, was the value of warming up my body before I started to workout. Now, I spend at least 20 minutes on a good warm up before I get started. Whether I am doing core work or other parts of my body, I always get loose first.
This is based on information that I discussed with my chiropractor and I am going to talk specifically about getting ready to do core exercises, but this can also hold true for routine workouts as well. Again, this is what works for me, but I would like to share my experience.
The first thing I do before I workout at all, is spend 20 minutes on some sort of cardio. When I was finally able to get back in the gym after my injury, I was limited to the elliptical. This is a good low impact way to get the body warmed up. The nice thing about an elliptical is you can really work out your whole body. With handles that move back and forth, you are able to incorporate some upper body as well as legs. This was a crucial first step for me, getting my upper body moving again.
I alternate days between using the elliptical machine, even different types of ellipticals, and using the Stairmaster. I spend 20 minutes on cardio before I move on to anything else. Now the time I spend on cardio works in stages as well. I start off slow, to get my body pre-warmed up if you will. After about 4-5 minutes I kick it up, then I keep kicking it up until I am dripping wet at the end of my 20 minutes.
On the elliptical I typically start out with 10 minutes of no hands, just working my legs at level 6 (on a scale of 1-20). I keep my head still too, no bobbing around and that is much harder. So, I start off slow and work my way up. After 10 minutes, I am up to about level 10, then I grab the handles and work my upper body too. By the end of the 20 minutes, I am usually at about level 14-16 (dripping wet). The Stairmaster is similar, I start off slow and work my way up in resistance.
You may not need to warm up this long, but this is what works for me. After time, you can find what works best for you.
After I am pretty well soaked, I start on the stretching part. Below I will walk through some of the stretches I perform to get ready to do some core work.
Warm-up stretch #1: Supine low back stretch
This is great for stretching the lower back and glutes. To perform this exercise, start on your knees, with your back straight. Then you want to slowly lean forward and place your hands on the ground in front of you. Sit back toward your heels, but don’t rest your butt on your heels. Lower your head and arch your back. You should feel this stretching your lower back. Hold for about 30 seconds, rest, then repeat.
Warm-up stretch #2: Adductor stretch
This will target your inner thighs. Start with your feet wide apart. Start with either side, but in this case, the left. Bend your left knee and lower your torso to the left as well. You should feel this in the right inner thigh. Hold for about 30 seconds, rest for a few, then repeat. After two sets on the left, switch to the right.
Warm-up stretch #3: Piriformis stretch
This target the hips and glutes, specifically trying to get the piriformis muscle. This little muscle is a tough little guy to get at. If your piriformis is tight or irritated, it can cause pain, due to its location by the sciatic nerve. Anyway, to get on with this stretch, lay on your back with your right leg bent and left ankle crossed over your right knee. Using your left and right hands, grab behind your right knee and gently draw the knee into your chest. You will feel this in the outer left hip area around you glute. Hold for 30 seconds, relax for a few and the do another 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Make sure to keep your back flat on the floor, and don’t pull too hard on your knee.
Warm-up stretch #4: Side bends
Stand up straight with your arms overhead, fingers interlocked. Slowly bend to one side, keeping your back straight. Then return upright, then do this on the other side. Exhale as you bend to the side and inhale as you return to center. Do this about 10 times on each side. You can modify this by holding one hand on your hip, on the side you are bending toward.
Warm-up stretch #5: Hip-to-thigh stretch
Great for stretching out hip flexors. Hip flexors can be a big contributor to back pain, so these are good to keep limber. You basically start out in a runners lunge. Right foot forward, knee bent at a 90-degree angle (you don’t want your knee extending over your ankle). The left knee will be on the ground behind you with the top of your foot flat to the ground. You want to bend into the right knee and stretch out the left hip flexor. Next, put your hands on the ground on either side of your right leg and move your hips back leaning your butt toward your left heel straightening your right leg. This will allow you to stretch the hamstring on the right side. Keep your front foot pointed up while stretching your hamstring, this will help to put less stress on your back. While you are doing all of this, try to keep your hips from rotating, you want to keep your legs nice and straight from an alignment standpoint. Hold for ten seconds, and you can actually repeat this front to back motion several times.
Depending on how tight your hamstrings are, you may or may not be able to touch the floor when doing the hamstring stretch. I am showing a modified version. I know it looks like I am getting ready to brace myself. This is the hamstring portion of the stretch, leaning forward into the right hamstring.
This is a pretty good sample of the kinds of things I do to get ready for working out, not only my core but other workouts as well. There are some other stretches I perform after the cardio part, but some of those involve twisting which can be painful for some people with back problems. When I first got back in the gym, my chiropractor specifically told me no twisting until I was further along. Given that, I am still very careful with twisting motions.
Hopefully, I have given you some valuable information here regarding the best warm-up exercises and getting your core ready. One thing I do need to say is that if any of these exercises cause pain, stop doing them. You should always talk to your doctor before you begin an exercise program, especially if you have back problems. I worked very closely with my chiropractor when I started back to the gym. He provided valuable guidance for me on my road to recovery.