When working out, many people neglect their core. But this is a mistake. Having a strong core is important for so many reasons – and not just because it will help you develop more aesthetically pleasing abs. Your core muscles act as your body’s support system. They play a crucial role in many of your daily activities, such as getting out of bed in the morning, walking, bending over to grab things, and helping you stay upright.
Core strength is essential for every kind of movement you do. Moreover, having a weak core puts you at risk of injury, especially injuries of the lower back (although you may also injure your shoulders, knees, and hips). For this reason, engaging in core strength training can be an effective way of helping to alleviate any lower back pain that you’re struggling with.
It should also be emphasized that strengthening your core will benefit the entire rest of your workout. A strong core helps you to complete other exercises (e.g. push-ups and deadlifts) in the safest and most effective way possible.
What is Your Core Made Up Of?
There are many layers to your core, which includes the abdominal muscles. The deepest layer of abdominal muscles is the transverse abdominis (or “corset” of the core), which helps to stabilize the spine and pelvis. Then you have the oblique muscles, which allow for movements like side bends and rotation. The topmost muscle, the rectus abdominis, is the muscle that – if worked out enough – you would see as a six-pack. This layer of abs helps to flex your torso forward, like when you do a crunch. But your whole core is made up of more than just abs. It also consists of your pelvic floor muscles, the back muscles that help to stabilize your spine, and your diaphragm.
How to Build a Strong Core
Building a strong core will provide you with functional strength, an improved workout regimen, as well as more defined and better-looking abs. Here are some vital core strengthening exercises to add to your workout routine.
- Cat/cow: this is also a classic yoga pose. For the cat/cow stretch, go on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. On an inhale, look up and arch your spine, lifting your tailbone and rolling you shoulders away from your ears (cow). On the exhale, press the floor away with your hands and knees and round your spine (cat). Do 10 repetitions of these.
- Hip bridge: this is a fundamental exercise for core strength. First, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Then, lift your hips towards the ceiling, creating a bridge. After doing this, release your hips and lower your pelvis so that it’s about two inches from the floor, squeezing your glutes while doing so. Repeat for 10 reps.
Image from baseballstrength.org
- Forearm plank: first, start in a push-up position on forearms. During this type of plank, you want to keep your arms perpendicular to your body, creating a straight line from the shoulders to the ankles. Squeezing your glutes during this exercise will also help keep your lower back flat, which is important for maintaining good back health. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
Image from New York Times
- Side forearm plank: this exercise works out muscles that help you rotate safely and quickly. Lie on your side with the bottom elbow on the floor. Then, raise your hips, so that your body forms a straight line from the hips to the shoulders. Also, extend your top arm so that it is perpendicular to the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
Image from Muscle and Fitness
- Butterfly sit-up: this variation of the sit-up eliminates the option of using your hip flexors, which essentially forces good form. To do this exercise, first lie face up with the soles of your feet together, with knees bent out to the side. With the palms of your hands together, reach your arms overhead. Then, using your core, roll your body forward until you are sitting upright, and reach forward to touch your toes. After doing this, slowly lower your back to the starting position. Do 10 reps of these.
Image from Men's Health
Of course, there are many and varied exercises you can do to strengthen and define your core. By incorporating a wide range of core strengthening exercises into a regular workout routine, you will give yourself the best chances of achieving optimal results.