The Best Core Exercise Ever.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me they have tight hamstrings.
…And I showed them that they don’t actually have truly tight hamstrings.
Because I’d have a whole lot of dollars…that I would probably spend on food.
If you’re wondering why I’m talking about hamstrings when I promised you the world’s best core exercise, it’s because often, perceived hamstring tightness stems from a lack of core strength, among other things. For one, yes you can have hamstrings that are shortened and truly tight but for this post we’re focusing on the core stuff.
If the body is “loose” or lacking stability in the core it has to find stability somewhere else in order to compensate. So what it’s going to do, because our bodies are super smart, is get the hamstrings to tighten up in order to help stabilize everything.
In such situations, the “tightness” felt is the nervous system putting the emergency brakes on to protect the body from going into a risky range of motion because it perceives an injury threat. We call this “tightness” neurological tension – and it’s not exclusive to just the hamstring muscles.
If you keep stretching and cranking on your hamstrings but their flexibility never seems to improve, try doing leg lowers.
Also consider getting assessed by someone who is FMS certified (me!) who can give you a movement evaluation and assess your active versus passive ranges of motion to determine tightness.
Remember from this previous blog post, our core is designed to be strong and stable enough to prevent unnecessary movement in our mid-section to protect our internal goodies, most importantly our spine. So core training at best is trying to maintain a neutral spine (good alignment) under a load or force that is trying to alter that position.
With leg lowers, we are working on maintaining a neutral spine while resisting extension in our lumbar spine.
These babies pack some serious bang for their buck including:
- Core strength
- The ability to stabilize your pelvis and spine while moving your legs (which translates to all lower body movements including deadlifting, running, walking, squatting, and lunging)
- Hamstring and hip flexor flexibility
- Eliminating imbalances between your left and right sides
- Hip separation (flexing one hip while extending the other)
Being able to own a leg lower is pretty vital to both health and performance.
- Lay on your back with both legs up, toes pulled towards your shins
- Exhale hard, pull your ribs down and roll your hips towards your ribs in order to flatten your lower back to the ground
- While maintaining this position, slowly lower 1 leg towards the ground while intensely pressing your lower back into the ground. Use a tempo of 2-3 seconds to lower your leg down down.
- Lower your leg as far as you can with the goal being to touch your heel to the ground without letting your lower back come off the ground or ribs flare up. Pause slightly at the end position and then raise your leg back up.
- Pause again at the top and continue with slow and controlled reps, avoiding momentum.
- If your ribs flare up and your lower back comes off the ground while lowering, stop there and return to the starting position to re-start the movement. Work within this range of motion until you are able to go lower.
These. Are. Tough. And you should feel them pretty strongly in your core when done correctly.
How many and when?
I suggest performing 5-8 reps per side as part of your warm up or as a filler in between strength exercises. For example:
A1) Squat 3×8
A2) Push up 3×8
A3) Leg lower 3×5/side
While leg lowers may not be the “flashiest” of core exercises, they are certainly powerful and can make a dramatic difference in how you feel, move and perform.
Good luck and let me know how you like ’em!