Core Strength Exercises for Back and Abs
About two years ago now I had to take a couple of weeks off Aikido because of a major back blowout, and when it happened again about 6 months ago I decided to talk to some friends about exercises I could do to strengthen my core to help prevent this in the future. One friend of mine in particular is a personal trainer, and she suggested I do front and side planks. I'd also done some youtube searching in the meantime and came across several good hits that recommended exactly the same thing, as well as a yoga "bridge" exercise. Together they all made perfect since since the planks covered the front and two sides, and the bridge covered the back. Perfect!
Together I call the whole set a "sausage roll", because you roll around to cover all four sides. And because sausage is yummy and it just seemed like the right name. :-) I start with a front plank for 60 seconds, then side plank for 60, then yoga back bridge for 60, then other side plank for 60, and finally a 60 second break. I do three sets 3 times a week - but you should do as many sets as you can. If you can only do 1 set to start with, then do that. And if each set is a shorter period of time, then go for it that way.
When doing the front planks make sure your back is straight and your butt is not sticking way out. Also make sure you are not doing the opposite and dragging your pelvis on the ground. For the side planks also make sure you are not drooping down to the ground - but for these ones I actually find it beneficial to the muscles involved to be pushing up a bit. With front planks if you did that, you'd end up bending your back and putting yourself out of the correct position so that you would not be working the right muscles, but with side planks it is not possible to knock yourself out of the right position because your body just does not bend that way, so you end up working the right muscles even harder if you push up. So if you are having trouble with the side planks, don't push up.
Rather than use a clock for counting my 60 seconds, I find it far easier to just count one-mississippi, two-mississippi on up to 10, then stick up one finger on one hand. When I count the next 10 mississippis I stick up another finger. When I have 5 fingers up, that was 50 seconds, so after the next 10 count I take all the fingers down again and move on to the next exercise in the set.
Given the fantastic results I've seen with just 3 sets, 3 times a week, I would say there is no need to push it any further than this. Instead, if you have more than 15 minutes, do this and then find another simple exercise to do, like pushups. In fact, I've also been doing the one hundred pushups thing, and can highly recommend it.