No matter what type of exercise you prefer to do on a regular basis, you need your core muscles to help support you. Unfortunately, all too many people fall into the trap of letting their core muscles slide. They’re content with their daily workout plan: running, lifting a few weights here and there, or perhaps participating competitively in a sport. If you’re thinking about improving your overall fitness, however, it’s important to increase strength throughout your core muscles, too.
What Is Your Core?
Your core is more than just your abs, though you certainly need those to help support you. In fact, your core encompasses your entire torso–everything but your arms and legs. Your core is responsible for supporting you through many of the movements that you take for granted every day, especially when you’re exercising.
“Exercises that cause you to stabilize teach your body how to react in sports performance or life situations where you need it–running, jumping, and any other situation that requires a quick reaction,” Jon Hinds, NBA strength coach and founder of Monkey Bar Gym.
Increased core strength has the potential to strengthen your entire body while giving you greater stabilization.
What are the Benefits of Strengthening Your Core?
Strengthening your core carries with it a number of key benefits–many of which you will begin to experience soon after beginning your core-strengthening routine. Increased core strength offers powerful benefits to anyone at any age, allowing you to more effectively complete your exercise routines, perform in the sport of your choice, or even decrease the risk of injury.
Benefit #1: Increased Core Strength Decreases Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is a chronic problem for many Americans–especially those who spend long hours every day sitting behind a desk. As it turns out, those long hours sitting in a chair or behind a keyboard can place substantial strain on the lower back, especially if those muscles aren’t engaged properly. By increasing your core strength, on the other hand, you can significantly decrease the intensity of back pain or even eliminate it altogether.
Benefit #2: Increased Core Strength Improves Sport Performance
Are you a distance runner? A gymnast? A football player? No matter what sport you love, increased core strength will help you perform more effectively in your sport of choice. Your core is responsible for many of the bending, twisting, and lifting movements that you take for granted every day–and if you let your core strength slide, you won’t be able to perform those exercises as well as you’d like.
Benefit #3: Core Exercises Improve Stability
As you age, it can be harder to maintain stability. Just walking across the floor can more dangerous as your balance and stability fade. With increased core strength, however, you’ll improve your balance and make it easier to complete your everyday activities.
Benefit #4: Increasing Core Strength is Better than Kegels
As women age or following pregnancy, they may struggle with bladder control. Jumping jacks, sneezing, or excessive laughter can all bring on leaks, leading to embarrassing situations and a struggle to avoid the circumstances that cause them. When you improve your core strength, however, you’ll find that you’re engaging the very muscles that keep your bladder under control–and that means fewer leaks and less worry.
Benefit #5: Better Posture Makes You Look Great
Want to look your best? Core strength isn’t just about slimming your abs or giving you that great muscular look you’ve always wanted. When you improve your core strength, you’ll be more likely to stand straighter, which will make you look trimmer and feel better.
Benefit #6: Improving Core Strength Makes Everyday Tasks Easier
Are there tasks that you put off because you know that they have the potential to cause back pain? Do you find yourself struggling to handle gardening, basic chores around the house, or lifting and bending when you need to pack boxes? Improved core strength can make all of those tasks easier, decreasing the pain you experience and leaving you feeling like you can accomplish anything, rather than feeling as though you need to beg for help to complete the simplest activities.
Benefit #7: Strong Core Muscles Decrease the Risk of Injury
As you increase your core strength, you improve your balance and build overall stability. In turn, this makes you less likely to injure yourself. When you build core strength, you’ll be able to perform the same routines you do every day with lower risk, both of acute injury and of repetitive stress injury. Not only will you be better able to keep up with your daily activities, but you’ll also decrease downtime and make it easier to do the things you need to do every day.
Benefit #8: You’ll Reach Your Fitness Goals More Easily
A strong core offers many benefits at any age. What are your current fitness goals? Your goals are as diverse as you are. You may want to improve your overall stability, increase your strength, or improve sports performance–and no matter what your fitness goals are, enhanced core strength will help get you there more effectively.
Many people assume that a few crunches will be adequate for improving overall core strength. After all, they’re engaging the abs and making them burn, right? When it comes to core-strengthening exercises, there are several key things to keep in mind.
• It’s not all about the abs. Remember, your core is made up of many of the muscles throughout your torso. You can’t focus on your abs alone and get the results you want.
• In order to effectively build your core, you need to put your body in an unstable position and force your core to work. Twisting & bending movements are great for this.
• Core exercises need to be performed on a regular basis to experience the benefits, especially if you’re struggling with lower back pain.
Planks are a great exercise to strengthen your core at any age. Simply place your hands under your shoulders, approximately shoulder width apart. Press your body up with the balls of your feet on the floor and support your weight. You can start by planking for as little as thirty seconds at a time and work your way up. Planks are appropriate to help strengthen your core at any age.
Plank variations: Side planks are a great way to help build your core strength in a different way. If you’re struggling with pain in your wrists, drop down for an elbow plank. As your core strength improves, you may want to try planking on an exercise ball. Try raising one foot off the ground for an added challenge.
Hanging Leg Raises
Hold on to a bar above your head–a pull-up bar will work, but you can also head to the park and use the monkey bars if needed. Slowly raise your legs level with your hips, then lower them again. This is a simple-looking exercise that is much more challenging than it looks!
Lie on the floor on your back and raise your legs into a position that’s perpendicular to the floor. Slowly lower one leg while keeping the other one straight up toward the ceiling. Get it as close to the floor as you can without touching it. Then, return it to its position and slowly lower the other leg.
Ab Wheel Rollouts
Using an ab wheel, place your knees on the floor and your hands on the wheel. Slowly roll out as far as you can without losing your balance, then roll back in toward your knees. This is an excellent exercise for challenging your core stability and building strength. As you get stronger, you can raise up on your feet instead of your knees, further increasing the effort required to keep your body stable.
Lie on your back with your hands at your sides. Bring your feet up. Slowly press your hips up until your body weight is balanced between hips and upper back. You can perform bridges in repetitions or hold a stationary position. Like planking, this is a great strength-building exercise in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and beyond!
Kneel on the floor or an exercise mat with your hands positioned under your shoulders. Slowly raise and lower one hand and the opposite foot, then bringing them back to your starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. Perform this exercise several times, alternating which arm and leg you use each time. This is another great exercise for building core strength no matter what your age!
Building core strength is an important part of maintaining your body at any age. As you get older, core strength becomes even more critical to stopping pain and maintaining your performance, not just in the sports and activities that you love, but in every area of your life.