Core Strengthening Exercises
What if I told you that you could become more athletic, less prone to injury, improve balance, joint stability and spinal health, and even lose an inch or two off your measurements by doing a few simple exercises a few times per week?
What magic exercises can do all that? CORE exercises!
Before we get into the exercises, let’s discuss and define “core”.
Most people immediately think of six pack abs and doing lots and lots of crunches. It may shock you to find that crunches are completely unnecessary unless you wish to develop the most superficial muscle of the abs: the rectus abdominis. The rectus abdominis is the abdominal muscle that lies directly under the skin and is the one that is most visible as a “six pack” when people shed enough fat to show it. Crunches work that particular muscle very well, but the truth is that the rectus abdominis muscle is only a very small player in the muscles that comprise your core.
Merriam-Webster defines core as the following:
- The central part of a heavenly body (as in the earth or sun).
- The central or most important part of something.
This definition actually applies quite well to our own bodies because our core can be defined as the complex set of central muscles (all the muscles except those in your arms and lower legs) in the front and back of the body that must work together to initiate and control almost every movement of the human body.
All of the muscles in your back, butt, hips, and abdominal region are included. And the real key in the definition above is that these muscle must work together. Isolating any one particular muscle (like doing countless crunches) won’t do much to improve overall core strength and stability.
Developing core strength is all about stabilizing your spine, which helps you generate power during athletic movements. You can view it as your athletic “base of stability” from which all movements of the human body stem.
HEY YOU! Just in case you read that last paragraph and thought: “I’m not an “athlete”, so I don’t really need this”…YOU need to keep reading!
Core work is certainly important for athletes, but it’s just as important for the average Jane and Joe! Core work improves spinal health and stabilization and reduces your risk of injury even in daily life. How many times have you heard of someone stepping “wrong” or bending over to tie a shoelace and hurting themselves? It’s really not that hard to do and you’re at even more risk if your base of stabilization - your core - is weak.
Great. I've convinced you that core work is necessary. So...what kinds of exercises are best?
There are many great core exercises out there. Simply plug “core exercises” into Dr. Google and you’ll probably find at least 25 exercises with hundreds of variations!
My favorite, and the one I require almost all of my clients to master, is the plank. When performed correctly, it’s a great full-body exercise that engages the entire core.
Planks are a static or isometric exercise, meaning you are you holding your muscles in a tensed state or a static position, usually for a given period of time (as opposed to exercises where you are actively contracting and relaxing the muscles for repetitions).
These non-moving exercises are great for beginning core stabilization, but once you are past the stabilization phase of your training and your core is sufficiently strong, it's time to add active exercises to continue to strengthen your core muscles.
It may surprise you to learn that some of the best core moves are squats, deadlifts, lunges, step ups, and pushups...not a single crunch in sight! These multi-joint movements require a lot of coordination and stability. To perform them correctly, the core is FORCED to work.
In the following video, I will demonstrate the triple plank. These three plank variations will work all of the important muscles of the core and are a great starting place for beginners. As you become more advanced, you can certainly add challenge to these by moving your arms and/or legs while in plank. And of course, moving on to exercises like squats, lunges, and deadlifts will help you develop your core strength even further.
As always, I hope this was helpful! I strive to empower YOU with fitness and nutrition information that can help YOU live your happiest and healthiest life!
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