Worried About Core Strength?
Is core strength important to you? Well, it should be! Here’s the doctor’s orders on why core strength is a must and some of the best workouts to help improve it!
Core strength is seriously important!
Over the years, fitness enthusiasts, personal trainers, and publications have glorified the association of core strength with having a “six-pack” set of abs. While abdominal muscles are important, the misconception that your abs compose your entire core has created an audience of gym-goers who focus only on stomach crunches for core strength.
People who train this way are unfortunately missing out on the gains that come with utilizing and building up all major functions of the core.
A strong core keeps your stomach tight, and enhances your ability to balance, turn, and move smoothly.
Training your core to become stronger and support your muscles will not only improve your overall body strength, but will also prevent falls and injuries during activities, and reduce chronic pains as you age.
Defining Core Strength
The core refers to a series of complex muscles that stabilize and move the spine. You engage your core when you do any activity that involves movement, including twisting, turning, bending, and sitting. That means most of your daily tasks – like vacuuming, showering, or getting dressed – depend on your core being strong and stable.
Think of the core’s role as a ripple effect – as you begin to move, a ripple of force flows from your core throughout your body, up and down your spine, reaching all the way to your fingertips. The stability of your core has an effect on all other muscles in your body.
When you have weak or inflexible core muscles, your blood circulation is weakened, your lower back is at risk of tension, and movement can be impaired in your back, legs, and other key areas.
The core muscles perform three main functions that support motion: trunk rotation, which allows you to twist your body from left to right; lateral trunk flexion, which allows you to lean your body side-to-side; and trunk flexion and extension, which allows you to bend forward and backward.
These movements involve more than just your abs – they require multiple muscles working together, including your obliques (located on your sides), glutes, quads, and deeper muscles that help to stabilize and protect the spine.
Core strength guides these muscles to work together properly, so you can engage in everyday activities.
How Does Core Strength Influence Your Health?
If you struggle with poor posture, fatigue, or aches and pains – especially in your neck and back – the cause is most likely weak, tight, or unbalanced core muscles. When you are young, soreness or tightness in your hips, back, or neck may seem slight; but as you age, these issues can escalate into serious obstacles, hindering your ability to perform simple tasks.
Core strength is essential for tasks such as rotating your head to look behind you, lifting objects, maintaining healthy posture, and even keeping your balance while standing. When your core feels weak, you may notice a snowball effect of issues regarding blood circulation, stability, and back pain.
According to research, there are five components of core stability: strength, endurance, flexibility, motor control, and function.
You must first work to accomplish core stability in order to protect your spine from injury; once you have that foundation in place, you can control the force of performing other movements, such as lifting or rotating your body.
Core Strength Alternative Benefits
Beyond stability, core strength also promotes healthy digestion. The digestive system is made up of blood vessels, and as your core muscles influence blood flow, the strength of your core affects the entire system. When your core is weak, you may experience inflammation, aches, and indigestion. Strengthening the core improves your body’s immunity, as it enhances blood circulation throughout your systems. For women, core strength can assist with aches and pains during a menstrual cycle. Because the pelvis is located near the core, women can relieve signs of PMS and cramping by maintaining a strong core.
Core strength is clearly important for your physical health, but what about your mental and emotional health?
A strong and stable core can actually enhance your mental state. Your core muscles support physical balance, which creates a sense of steadiness and calmness that helps you to cope with outside influences. Since the diaphragm is located near the core region, a strong core promotes deeper and more efficient breathing.
Healthy breathing patterns allow you to feel physically centered, balanced, and ultimately more relaxed (read more about breathing techniques).
Best Workouts for Building Core Strength
Strength training, stretching, and aerobic exercises will help build and strengthen your core. A combination of all three is the best formula for avoiding injury and increasing flexibility.
It takes little to no equipment to strengthen your core, and it’s never too late to start. There are countless bodyweight exercises – which require no equipment – that you can do to engage your core muscles. Most people know how to do crunches, and while those are wonderful for building your abdominals, the core strengthening shouldn’t stop there.
One great exercise to increase stability in the spine is a plank – which involves holding your body up on your elbows and toes, keeping your back flat and your hips level, for a predetermined amount of time. As it becomes easier for you to hold the plank position, try incorporating opposing hand and leg lifts while remaining stable. Movement-oriented activities, such as knee raises, bicycle kicks, and superman lifts will help engage your glutes, obliques, and other areas of your core.
If you already have an exercise routine, try incorporating instability into some of your activities – for example, by using an exercise ball when doing lunges or squats.
This forces your body to automatically engage your core to stabilize yourself while doing the exercise – essentially, killing two birds with one squat!
Wrap-Up: Keep Yourself Healthy to the Core
Core strength is one of the most important elements to maintaining your health and wellbeing.
The core protects your internal organs, assists with movements in every direction, and provides stability and balance throughout your entire body. Practicing core exercises – beyond just crunches and ab-focused movements – is crucial to maintaining a fully functional core. As you age, core strength becomes even more vital for avoiding injury, and preventing against chronic conditions.
Prioritizing core strength will allow you to perform better during workouts, and live a longer and healthier life in the long run.