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Core Strength Training For COPD - The Edge You Need Part 2

Posted Sep 12 2008 4:12pm

Note: This program is a beginner to intermediate program. If you have never worked out before then some of the terminology used here may seem confusing. If that is the case, then please visit Our Sample Beginner Program Page. Use the pop-up windows on that page to familiarize yourself with some of the more common terms. Take a look at some of the exercise demos. This will help you grasp some of the concepts discussed in this post. Also, please visit the Anatomy Chart to familiarise yourself with your body’s muscle groups :)


As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, having a strong core (abs, obliques, intercostals, diaphragm and lower back) is a must for anyone, especially people with COPD. Simply put, with strong abs, ribcage muscles, diaphragm and lower back, a person with COPD will have an easier time keeping their lungs clean and healthy. Of course, I am speaking from personal experience here. I have COPD. Yet, I am firmly convinced that I am far healthier with a stronger body core than I would be without one.

The bottom line is you can be stronger. You can be more fit. You can aspire to have more robust health, even if you have COPD. If you try this core strength training program, I believe you will eventually find yourself breathing better. That said, you really should consult your health care provider before trying any health or fitness suggestions you find on the Internet.

If necessary, print this column and the fitness program suggested in it. Show it to your doctor. If he or she thinks that these suggestions are reasonable, and if you get approval to try it, then give it a shot for 2-3 weeks. See how you feel with it. Monitor your progress. Monitor how you feel. Then adjust the program based on the results you are getting.

If you do not already belong to a gym, you will need a few things. Ideally, you will need access to some paired dumbbell handles ranging from 5 lbs - 15 lbs to start with. It would also be nice if you had a sturdy, flat utility bench, but even a sturdy chair will do.

An example of a good utility bench can be found here. A good bench will run you between $175.00 to $250.00. If you cannot afford a bench, see if you can at least get hold of some dumbbells. You will need them.

Before you begin this program, take some time to stretch and warm up. Take a walk if you feel up to it. Do whatever you can to limber up and get the blood flowing. With respect to stretching, there is a great web site that offers some tips on the subject. It is called Stretching Exercises. As you can see stretching can be a workout in and of itself, so do not over do it. The idea is to just get your joints and muscles ready for a workout.

The Core Strength Program (Beginner to Intermediate)

  • Dumbbell Side Bends For Obliques: 1-3 sets per side x 10 - 20 reps per set
  • Ab Crunches: 1-3 sets x 10 - 20 reps
  • Lying Leg Raises: 1-3 sets x 8 - 15 reps
  • Dumbbell Stiff Deadlifts: 5-15 lbs x 10 - 20 reps


Dumbbell Side Bends For Obliques: The dumbbell side bend is going to strengthen the muscles along the left and right sides of the abdominal wall. This is typically where the “love handles” are found.

Preparation - Grasp one dumbbell in your right hand, spread your feet slightly wider than shoulder width (some say space your feet at shoulder width, but I feel that for proper balance you need a wider base. That is why I suggest slightly wider that shoulder width).

Execution - With your shoulders squared and your left hand on your hip (or placed behind your head for added resistance), lean or bend your torso to the right, allowing the dumbbell in your right hand to travel down your right thigh towards the floor. Keep your shoulders squared the entire time and pay attention to your descent. Make sure the motion is slow and controlled (you will feel an awesome stretch in your left side as you bend to the right. The stretch should not burn, but should be a comortable feeling or warmth. If you feel pain, stop.).

When the dumbbell reaches or comes close to your right knee stop your descent and reverse your motion. Contract your left oblique and return your torso to an upright position. When you reach an upright position, stop. Do not lean to the left at this point. Keep the left oblique tense, yes, but begin a second rep by bending to the right again. Do this until you have completed 10-20 reps with the dumbbell in your right hand and then switch the dumbbell to your left hand and perform a similar set for the left side. At that point take a breather for a minute or two and then proceed to your next set or exercise.

Sets -??Beginners should do 1-2 sets per side, where as someone with greater strength and stamina might consider 2-3 sets per side. Anything beyond that and you are into advanced territory. I do not recommend more than three sets per side.

Ab Crunches: The “Crunch” is the perfect exercise for the front abdominal wall, otherwise known as the rectus abdominus, which runs from the bottom of your ribs to just above the belly button (the six-pack). The Crunch serves the purpose of strengthening the abdominal wall without placing too much strain on the lower back, which is ideal for some folks who do not like sit-ups for that very reason, making Crunches the perfect alternative to traditional sit-ups.

Preparation - Lie on the floor with the backs of your lower legs resting on top of a chair. If this is not comfortable, place your feet on the floor close to your bottom.

Ideally, if you have a flat utility bench, lie on the bench instead of the floor, face up. Your knees should be bent and your feet flat on the bench with your shoulders close to the edge of the bench. If you have a good level of strength, lift your feet up and use your own abdominal strength to keep your feet suspended in a fetal position. Just make sure to position your body so that your upper thighs are at a 90 degree angle (perpendicular) to your torso.

Place your hands where they feel most comfortable. Rest them across your chest, hold them at your sides or place your hands by your ears (just do not use your hands to pull your head forward). If you are really strong, grab a dumbbell or weight plate and hold it behind your head with both hands for added resistance. You are now ready to begin.

Execution - With your hands at your side, behind your head or crossed at your chest, contract the stomach in such a way as to pull your shoulders and upper back up as far as possible. For the most part your torso will not move very much. Your primary focus should be on pulling your shoulders and upper back upward and rolling forward slightly. Imagine trying to touch your shoulders to your knees. You will feel your stomach tighten intensely as you do this.

Pause, and return slowly to the starting position. Try not to hold your breath. Breath in a relaxed manner. You will want to exhale as you contract your abs. This allows you to squeeze the abs more tightly. Breath in as you return to the starting position and repeat. Do this until you have completed 10-20 reps, being sure to keep your reps controlled. Do not jerk.

Sets -??Beginners should do 1-2 sets, where as someone with greater strength and experience might consider 2-3 sets.

Lying Leg Raises: The Lying Leg Raise places greater stress on the entire front abdominal wall, from the ribs to the pelvic insertion and all points in between. The greatest emphasis is on the lower abs from the belly button down into the pelvic region. In addition, there are some hip extensors that are greatly involved in this movement, making this a very challenging exercise.

Note: I recommend this for people who like a challenge and have an intermediate level of fitness. Beginners might wish to wait a couple of weeks before incorporating this exercise.

Preparation - Lie outstretched on the floor or a bench in a supine position, face up. Your hands should be palms down, underneath your rear end. Placing your hands under your bottom serves the purpose of tilting the hips and pelvis region forward a bit, which reduces the amount of stress that the lower back has to absorb when you raise your legs.

If you are using a bench, you should position your body on the bench so that your hips are close to one end of the bench without being so close that your hips protrude off the end of the bench. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your entire butt and pelvic region is on the bench. Only your legs are unsupported. You are now ready to begin.

Execution - Keeping your legs slightly bent but stiff (maybe a 5-10 degree bend at the knees is acceptable), raise your feet upwards until your feet are almost perpendicular to the floor or bench. I do not suggest taking your feet beyond that point due to the fact that when you do this the focus on your lower abs is lost. Slowly return your feet to the starting position, stopping your descent just above parallel to the floor or bench, but not beyond that point. Keep the tension on the abs, pause, then lift your feet upwards again.

For added intensity, keep your head off the floor or bench. This places a pre-stretch/contraction on your abs and helps to keep the abs contracted throughout the entire set.

Do this until you have completed 8-15 reps. Remember, this is a hard exercise. If you cannot do the minimum 8 reps, do what you can and add reps each workout until you can perform your targeted number of reps.

Sets -??Beginners should do 1-2 sets, where as someone with greater strength and experience might consider 2-3 sets.

Stiff Legged Deadlifts with Dumbbells: This exercise strengthens the lower back and backs of the legs, however what we are most concerned with is the effect on the lower back, so the execution will be adjusted accordingly.

We will be using very light weights here, so the risk of injury is minimal. However, it should be noted that if you have a weak lower back, or any pre-existing injuries, you may wish to consider approaching this exercise with exteme caution or forgoing it altogether for the time being. The last thing I want is people writing me and complaining that this exercise is dangerous and hurt their lower backs.

The truth is that this exercise does carry with it some inherent risks, but typically this is due to people using too much weight too soon, or using very poor form in the execution of this exercise. When light weight is used, and special care is given to form, this exercise can be performed safely and to great effect provided you have no pre-existing injury.

Preparation - Stand with your feet about 16 inches apart (app. shoulder width). Grasp two dumbbells (5 - 15 lbs), one in either hand. Stand erect while holding the dumbbells at your sides, palms facing into your thighs, thumbs forward. You are ready to begin.

Execution - With your head up and your back straight, bend at the hips, slowly lowering your torso as if you were picking something up from the floor in front of you. The weights will naturally rotate forward a bit, but your arms should remain perpendicular to the floor. Just let gravity do it’s job.

Allow a tiny bend in the knees of perhaps 5 degrees (just enough to keep the legs from being locked at the knees). Lower your torso until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, but not a burning stretch. For most people, the desired position places your torso parallel to the floor. There is need to go beyond this point unless you have the flexibility and strength to do so. For our purposes, I recommend avoiding such extreme forward bending. Once you have reached the desired position, in one smooth motion return to a standing position, using the lower back muscles and hamstrings to stand erect. Do not hold your breath. Breath in a relaxed fashion. Inhale before you descend, exhale as you stand up.

Remember, the more deeply you bend, the more stress you place on the hamstrings (back of the leg) and we really do not need that right now. We are primarily focused on the lower back. So do not bend to far forward.


Do this until you have completed 10 - 20 reps.

Sets -??Beginners should do 1-2 sets, where as someone with greater strength and experience might consider 2-3 sets.

Monitor your energy and strength levels. If you find the exercises too hard, reduce the number of exercises to one or two exercises instead of four. Reduce the reps and sets. Do not use weights etc.

If the program seems too easy, increase the number of sets and reps. Use heavier dumbbells etc. Be patient and do not do too much too soon.

If you find yourself getting sore, that is normal. Allow a day or two to recover so that your soreness dissipates before you train again.

If you have questions, contact me from my web site. I will be happy to help any way I can.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 7th, 2007 at 3:35 pm and is filed under Beginner Programs, COPD - Lungs and Exercise, Traditional Strength Training. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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