Instruct clients to perform this core warm-up program each morning for optimal results in—and out of—the gym. This program is especially beneficial for clients who are prone to back pain.



Daily Practice

When introducing a client to the morning core routine, urge him to perform it every day, just after rising from bed. Completing the program in the morning is ideal for two reasons.

First, this is typically the time when the body is cold, stiff and most prone to injury. Executing the core routine prior to movement is like doing a preworkout warm-up. It helps to increase soft-tissue blood flow, warmth and pliability; facilitates greater motor control and neurological awareness; permits gradual metabolic adaptation for enhanced cardiorespiratory performance; and helps develop a psychological readiness for upcoming tasks. All of these benefits lead to more efficient movement patterns and injury prevention/reduction.

Second, a morning routine helps to assure daily adherence. Chances are, if your client puts off the program until later, it will be the first thing to be eliminated from a busy schedule.

Very little is needed to complete the routine, making it highly convenient. There are 10 exercises listed here; however, your client needs to choose only six of them. He will complete 2-3 sets of each, working at about 50%-70% of maximum intensity.

These core exercises are designed specifically for improved neuromuscular efficiency, not hypertrophy, so moderate intensity is warranted. Muscular fatigue will not be significant; instead, the responses should be warmth, enhanced flexibility and increased awareness of the muscle tissues involved.

The movements of the morning core routine are simple, but they require optimal form for effectiveness. To ensure excellent mechanics, thoroughly describe and demonstrate each of the exercises and ask the client to do the same. Provide the client with written explanations and corresponding images in a handout format for home use. At your next meeting, ask the client to demonstrate the exercises again. At this time you can critique form and also determine adherence. Since the routine is to be completed at home, compliance journals, e-mail and text message reminders and feedback may be necessary to ensure regular practice.

When performed daily, the morning core routine can improve neuromuscular control, spinal stability, movement pattern efficiency and injury prevention/reduction. Enhanced core strength and stability are also likely to increase a client’s ability to perform at greater intensities during exercise sessions.

The Exercises

1. TVA (transversus abdominis) Draw-Ins From Quadruped Position
From quadruped position, inhale deeply and then exhale. As you exhale, draw bellybutton toward spine and up into chest. Hold this position for minimum of 6-20 seconds. Perform 3-5 reps per set. Take 1-2 recovery breaths between reps, if needed.

2. Prone Pillow Squeezes
In prone position, dorsiflex feet and flex knees to 90 degrees while keeping feet and legs hip to shoulder width apart. Place pillow, foam roller, yoga block or other similar tool evenly between feet and ankles. As you squeeze pillow, engage glutes to achieve hip extension. Hold each contraction for 1-2 seconds (50%-70% intensity).

3. Quadruped Pillow Squeezes
From quadruped position, let belly become heavy, and allow lumbar spine to sink into lordosis. Place pillow between feet and ankles. Squeeze pillow, holding each contraction for 1-2 seconds (50%-70% intensity).

4. Kneeling Pillow Squeezes
From kneeling position, assume neutral spine. Place pillow between feet and ankles. Squeeze pillow while simultaneously contracting glutes (50%-70% intensity).

5. Prone Presses
Assume prone position on floor, dorsiflex feet and ankles and posteriorly tilt pelvis if necessary to achieve neutral spine. Place arms in 90-90 position with hands and wrists slightly higher than elbows. Perform shoulder press so that both hands come together above head. Keep hands and wrists slightly elevated above elbows.

6. Modified Cobra
Assume prone position on floor. Dorsiflex feet and ankles, and posteriorly tilt pelvis if necessary to achieve neutral spine. Begin with arms extended above head and touching (palms down). Slowly bring arms toward knees. As arms pass by shoulders, lift head, neck and torso while keeping navel drawn in. Hold at top of movement with shoulder blades retracted and depressed.

7. Glute Bridge
In supine position, create 90-degree angle at knees with feet on floor. While maintaining neutral spine, engage glutes so that hips move into hip extension.

8. Quadruped Opposite Arm/Leg Raise (Bird-Dog)
From quadruped position, brace abdominals and extend contralateral arm and leg. Maintain original hand and knee placement, and keep hips level throughout exercise. Head and neck should remain neutral.

9. Plank
From prone position, dorsiflex feet and ankles, engage glutes and brace abdominals. This will create tension throughout posterior chain. Place elbows directly under shoulders, and direct hands toward head to form triangle with arms. Avoid squeezing fists, to optimize blood flow through fingertips.

10. Side Plank
Begin by lying on right side of body with feet stacked. Place right elbow just below right shoulder and lift hips, ensuring that elbow and shoulder are in line, creating 90-degree angle. Repeat on other side.

To see images of the exercises listed, please refer to the full article, “Core Stability for Enhanced Daily Function” in the online IDEA Library or in January 2010 IDEA Fitness Journal.

Video Web Extra! To view these exercises in action, view the Video Web Extra at