Getting to Core of things

After many years of Karate training, I realized that small efforts lead to significant improvements if they are done often enough. One area that I feel I have been lacking in is my core. I don’t think it was weak, but I believe it could be better with a little bit of focused training.

From the bottom of your chest to the top of your knees

People often ask how to make their core stronger, and the first thing they ask is what kind of abdominal exercises can they do. I tell them that the abdominals are part of the core, but more muscles than the abdominals make the core complete. 

The core is the center of your body, and all Karate related movements are dependant on your center.

For me, the core starts at the top of the knees up to just under your chest. This entire area, both front, and back, contributes to Karate techniques, and leaving out any of those areas will make them not ineffective but less effective than they could be.

Simple training, BIG results

I compiled a simple group of movements that help build the core muscles and add some extra mobility, which is always a plus. 

Ten repetitions for each exercise, except those based on time, works well for me, and remember to work both sides of your body for the single-leg movements.

  • Lying side leg raise
  • Glute bridge
  • Donkey kick
  • Lying front leg raise or alternating bent leg / straight leg
  • Swiss ball squeeze
  • Hollow body hold for 20 seconds
  • Plank with straight arms or on elbows

Lying side leg raise – Lying on your side, with your body in a straight line, using your hips, slowly raise your leg above, hold for a brief pause and then lower it down to the leg on the floor and start again. Do not pause at the start of each repetition to make the movement harder, and keep your feet pointed straight ahead.

Glute bridge – Lying on your back, bend your knees to about a 90-degree angle and plant your heels into the floor. From there, tighten your ab muscles, trying to tilt your pelvis upward and raise your butt and back off the floor. Only your feet, shoulders, and head should be touching the floor, and your butt muscles should be tensed as much as possible. You want to have your knees, legs, abs, and chest in a straight line, and be sure not to push your abs up too far, or it will put stress on your lower back. Your knees should stay in line with your feet and should not move in or out during each repetition.

Donkey Kick – Start this movement on your hands and knees like a table. While keeping your body in that position, bring one knee towards your chest while keeping it bent, then bring it up back and up behind you while keeping it at a 90-degree angle. You want to keep your lower back flat like a table throughout this movement to keep stress off your back while maximizing the engagement of your butt muscles and stretching your hip flexors.

Lying front leg raise or alternating bent leg / straight leg – Lying on your back, think of pushing your lower back into the floor. You can bend one knee or keep both legs straight. From that position, you raise one leg while keeping the other leg or foot planted. The other option, which I like a little better, is starting in the same position lying on your back, keeping one leg straight and close to the floor but not touching, and bringing the other knee up to your chest, alternating this action with each leg. I do a slight crunch with my upper body to keep the tension on the abdominal areas and keep my lower back in good contact with the floor. I also grab the bent knee to get a slight extra stretch.

Swiss ball squeeze – It’s best to have a swiss ball for this movement, but any object you can place between your legs and squeeze will work, such as a large foam pillow. While seated, put the swiss ball between your knees and squeeze it for a short pause, and release. 

Hollow body holds – I learned about this movement from an article by Bret Contreras. Lying on your back, with your arms straight above your head and legs straight, you push your lower back into the floor while raising your legs and butt off the floor along with your upper back, shoulders, arms, and head. The only part of your body touching the floor is your lower back and middle back. You then hold this position for as little as 20 seconds and try to increase the time as your endurance improves but make sure that your keep the correct form. Raising your legs higher makes this easier, while keeping your legs lower makes it harder for me.

Plank – You can do the plank with straight arms or bent elbows. The idea is to make your body as rigid as a wooden plank with only your hands or elbows/lower arms and your toes touching the floor. You must keep your body as rigid as possible without letting your stomach sag (try to tuck your pelvis) or putting your butt up in the air. If you want even more abdominal engagement, try tilting your pelvis up when doing these. Holding for 20 seconds is an excellent place to start, and you will improve quickly, but like the hollow body hold, the correct form is vital.

Time to get to it!

I did this simple workout five days a week, and it takes under 10 minutes to complete, so get to it and make your core the center of your Karate techniques.

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