I always warn my clients they'll get sick of hearing me say "glutes & core". Despite that coveted peach & chiseled six-pack, these are the two most important muscle groups to train not only individually, but in unisen.
Your glutes & core are your two largest muscle groups, providing balance, control, and power. You cannot have one without the other; a strong core will only get you so far without a strong pelvis, and when performing a movement if you lose engagement of one, the other follows suit.
Below are some of my favorite glute & core exercises, all of which are easy to progress or modify as needed...
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SINGLE LEG HIP THRUST
Lay flat on the mat & pull one knee in to the chest, extend that leg out at approximately 45 degree angle. Squeeze your glutes to lift the hips. Keep your neck in line with your spine & your back flat, so as to not over extend (aka. don't arch your back). At the top of the movement, you should be able to draw a straight line from head to toe.
To modify simply keep both feet on the floor. For an added challenge ditch the mat and lean up against a bench. Line up with your back against the edge of the bench at the bra-line. Keeping your back flat, you'll pivot on the bench with each lower and lift of the hips.
Pro Tip: Keep your weight in the heels & reach back as in sitting in a chair. Keep knees behind the toes & only lower as far as you can keep that core engaged. The moment you start to fee that core give out, squeeze your glutes and press through the heels to standing. As you strengthen, you'll be able to increase that range of motion while maintaining proper muscle engagement. If you're feeling this in your quads or knees, your likely keeping the weight towards the front of your feet & not reaching back enough. Transfer weight to the heels and lead with the hips.
From standing, reach back with one leg and lower the knee one inch above the ground in the center of your stance. You should see a 90 degree angle from hip to ankle on both legs. Press into the front heel and push back up to standing. Avoid kicking off the back foot. Keeping the weight in the front heel, your back leg should float back up to standing. If you're doing this right, you'll feel on one side of your glutes at a time.
Pilates Step Down
This is a modified pilates chair exercise. To start, place one foot on top of a bench, shift all of the weight forward onto that leg. Find your balance & engage your core. Keeping your upper body in place, and your back leg light as a feather, reach back and gently tap your toe to the ground, return to bench, gently tap the toe, and repeat. If you're doing this right, by 15-20 reps your glute will be burning out.
Pro Tip: As with the squat, if you're feeling this in your quad, transfer your weight to the heel of that front foot.
Don't underestimate this simple movement, this is one of my favorite core exercises & a great replacement for crunches, since it doesn't apply any pressure on the neck. Begin by lying flat on the mat, bring legs up to table-top, and grip a yoga brick on one side between your knee and elbow. Rather than applying pressure down through the elbow, flex your foot (toe to chin) and apply pressure through the knee up toward the chest. The more your press up through that knee, the more you'll feel those lower abdominals engage. On the opposite side, extend your arm overhead and straighten your leg at a 45 degree angle. Only extend as far as you can keep that back flat to the mat. If you feel pressure in your low back, or notice it starting to arch, limit your range of motion & focus on straightening the leg, rather than lowering it.
If you ever feel back pain in this position, the following instructions are for you.
Start on your hands and knees, lift the knees off the mat, make sure your back is flat- there should be a straight line from head to toe. If you struggle keeping this form & feel your low back arch, tuck your pelvis toward your ribcage. Pull your weight forward just a couple of inches making sure your shoulders are directly above your hands. To fully engage your core, squeeze your glutes and flex your thighs. The more musclsd you can engage, the better.
To modify, either lower down to your elbows, or drop down to your knees. For an added challenge, simply practice lifting one arm off the mat at a time. The key here is control, maintaining the hips in place, while transferring weight (aka. avoid that side-to-side sway).
Pilates Single Leg Stretch
Begin by laying flat on the mat. Pull your knees into the chest, peel your neck and shoulders off the mat & engage your core. Extend your left leg forward, & slide your right hand down your ankle, using the other to gently brace the inside of your knee. Switch legs & repeat for 10-15 reps.
Pro Tip: Keep your shoulders down away from the ears & peel up off the mat an added couple inches.
Side Plank with Hip Dips
Turn onto your side, bend your knees slightly & place your hand under your shoulder. Press into your hand & lift the hips off the mat. Stack the shoulders, stack the hips, and find your balance. You should see a straight line from head to toe. In a controlled fashion, lower and raise the hips.
To modify, separate the feet for a wider base of support. Additionally, you can lower down to your elbow and/or knees. Bend the knees at a 90 degree angle & lift the hips– you should see a straight line from your shoulders down to your knees.