Core strength has become a bit of a buzz term—but for good reason. Your core is the core of your fitness—it is the foundation of all your movement.
A strong core makes it easier to do everything—from swinging a golf club to running to reaching for something high on a shelf or even just bending down to tie your shoes. Weak core muscles can lead to poor posture, low back pain, and injury. In other words, the core is everything.
What is the Core?
Most people mistakenly equate the term core with the abdominal muscles. While the core does include the abdominal muscles, it is so much more than that.
The core is actually comprised of all of the muscles in the torso that keep the body stable and balanced—so think everything from the shoulders to the thighs, on both the front and back of the body. In fact, the back is a hugely important part of the core. There are actually 29 muscles that make up the core, including the glutes and the paraspinal muscles.
The core is sort of a machine of muscles all working together. There are two types of core muscles: stabilizers, which attach directly to the spine and support its movement and muscle and movers, which support the stabilizer muscles and work with them to move your body. All of these muscles work together to support and move your body safely.
Working the Core
Think of your core as a pillar. Core strength exercises work to strengthen all of the muscles of the torso from top to bottom and front to back—in order to create balance, stand tall, and be able to move in all planes of motion. In other words, the abdominal muscles are only as strong as those of the back, quads, glutes, and shoulders. If you hit the crunches hard and over-train the front side of the body, this could set you up for back and hip problems down the road. Instead, it’s important to target the entire core.
So, how do you do that? There are endless ways to strengthen the core, but for an easy, efficient core workout, think: front, back, and side. If you do nothing else to strengthen your core, at least do a variation of these three exercises during each workout:
- Glute Bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift hips until knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line. Hold and repeat. (You can add several variations, such as lifting a leg or placing the feet on a ball.)
- Side Plank: Lie on your side with your forearm on the ground beneath your shoulder. Lift the hips off the ground so that your torso is straight from the ankle to shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. (Variations include lifting a leg, lifting and lowering the hips, or placing the hand on the ground instead of the forearm.)
- Forearm Plank: Assume a plank position with forearms on the ground and elbows directly beneath shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. (Variations include lifting a leg or an arm or assuming a full plank on the hands.)
Of course, if you want more, you can always get creative and use tools such as a fitness ball, a BOSU, TRX straps, and more. Most bodyweight exercises are excellent for strengthening the core. In fact, push-ups are an excellent core strengthener that work the chest, shoulders, abdominals, and back muscles. Vertical core exercises are also important for building core strength.
Need help strengthening your core? Try a 30-minute CXWORX class on M,W, F at noon or Tuesday at 10:05.