You may not be aware of it, but your core muscles underpin everything you do. Here are ways to strengthen your core without crunches…

Core dysfunction, which can affect anyone at any fitness level, can lead to incontinence, hernias, diastasis recti, ‘mummy tummy’, hip pain, back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain.

Fortunately, working your core does not mean hours of doing crunches. It could start with your breath.

Breathe in

Since the deep core encompasses the diaphragm, optimising your breathing also optimises core function. It is important to address your deep core as a team.

The other core muscles include the transverse abdominals, pelvic floor and multifidus muscles.

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Strengthen your core without crunches

Shirley Boerssen, founder/owner of Core Connect, director of Low Pressure Fitness South Africa and co-coordinator of Kegels & Karma, shares five exercises that will help you reconnect with your breath and work your core:

She recommends doing these exercises three to four times a week for optimal results:

1. Core breath

While seated or lying down: Inhale – as you do this, think of softening your pelvic floor. Then exhale – as you do this gently engage your pelvic floor. Do 15 to 30 breaths.

Remember, core breath is not a Kegel. It is not a strength exercise. The key is to gently engage and release. The sensation is similar to when you relax to wee. On the inhale, think of relaxing and starting the flow of urine. On the exhale, think of gently slowing the flow.

2. Box breathing

This is a simple meditative breathing pattern that really wakes up your ribs and diaphragm.

While seated or lying down, Inhale to a count of four, hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, hold your breath for four counts and repeat. Aim for 15 to 30 breaths.

Remember, keep your tummy soft and avoid arching your mid-back. Focus on expanding into your side and back ribs.

Related: 6-Week ab workout program to get rid of belly fat for good

3. Stationary lunge using core breath

Stand with your feet in the starting position for a lunge.

Inhale – as you do this, think of “softening” your pelvic floor and bend your knees to go into the lunge. At the bottom of your lunge: stop, gently engage your pelvic floor and exhale as you straighten your legs and return to the starting position. Repeat two to four sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

4. Tabletop plank hover using core breath

On all fours, in a tabletop position: Inhale, and soften your pelvic floor, stop, gently engage your pelvic floor and lift your knees a few centimetres off the mat so that you are balancing on your hands and feet.

Exhale as your knees hover above the mat for two to four seconds, then gently lower them to the mat again.

Repeat for two to four sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

If you feel pressure when lifting your knees, or see your tummy bulging, don’t lift your knees. Just remain in the tabletop position without lifting your knees. Instead, think of lengthening through your tail bone and crown as you exhale.

5. Bridge combined with core breath

Lie on your back, with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Your heals should be just in line with your sit bones.

Inhale and soften your pelvic floor (think – starting the flow of urine), pause and gently engage your pelvic floor (think – slowing the flow of urine), exhale as you lift your pelvis up into a bridge.

Instead of squeezing your glutes together, as if you were pinching a penny in the middle, rather squeeze both butt cheeks up to the sky, this will lessen any pelvic tuck. Repeat two to four sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Related: Exercise for your age

Core and pelvic floor dysfunction

If you enjoyed this workout, join Boerssen and guest speakers, along with her sister and co-coordinator, Janet Kimmel, at Kegels & Karma in Paarl, Western Cape on 13 January 2018.

A first in South Africa, this women’s health and wellness event focuses on mind, body and soul with an emphasis on creating awareness around the taboo topic of core and pelvic floor dysfunction.

“We want to educate every single woman out there about the power of her body, its capabilities and how to ensure it works at its optimum,” says Kimmel, who is also the founder and owner of The Align Metho.

“You will learn about your body from the inside out by means of specialised exercises, specialists speakers and delicious food, all while learning, connecting and growing with other like-minded women!” adds Boerssen.

For more information, visit www.kegelsandkarma.co.za

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.