The real-world benefits of strengthening your core

The real-world benefits of strengthening your core

Think of your core muscles as the sturdy central link in a chain connecting your upper and lower body. Whether you’re hitting a tennis ball or mopping the floor, the necessary motions either originate in your core, or move through it.

No matter where motion starts, it ripples upward and downward to adjoining links of the chain. Thus, weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function. And that saps power from many of the moves you make. Properly building up your core cranks up the power. A strong core also enhances balance and stability. Thus, it can help prevent falls and injuries during sports or other activities. In fact, a strong, flexible core underpins almost everything you do:

  • Everyday acts.Bending to put on shoes or scoop up a package, turning to look behind you, sitting in a chair, or simply standing still — these are just a few of the many mundane actions that rely on your core and that you might not notice until they become difficult or painful. Even basic activities of daily living — bathing or dressing, for example — call on your core.
  • On-the-job tasks.Jobs that involve lifting, twisting, and standing all rely on core muscles. But less obvious tasks — like sitting at your desk for hours — engage your core as well. Phone calls, typing, computer use, and similar work can make back muscles surprisingly stiff and sore, particularly if you’re not strong enough to practice good posture and aren’t taking sufficient breaks.
  • A healthy back.Low back pain may be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles. When back pain strikes, a regimen of core exercises is often prescribed to relieve it, coupled with medications, physical therapy, or other treatments if necessary.
  • Sports and other pleasurable activities.Golfing, tennis or other racquet sports, biking, running, swimming, baseball, volleyball, kayaking, rowing and many other athletic activities are powered by a strong core.
  • Housework, fix-it work, and gardening.Bending, lifting, twisting, carrying, hammering, reaching overhead — even vacuuming, mopping, and dusting are acts that spring from, or pass through, the core.
  • Balance and stability.Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance. Viewed this way, core exercises can lessen your risk of falling.
  • Good posture.Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture trims your silhouette and projects confidence. More importantly, it lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply. Good posture helps you gain full benefits from the effort you put into exercising, too.

Weak, tight, or unbalanced core muscles can undermine you in any of these realms. And while it’s important to build a strong core, it’s unwise to aim all your efforts at developing rippling abs. Overtraining abdominal muscles while snubbing muscles of the back and hip can set you up for injuries and cut athletic prowess. If washboard abs are your holy grail, it’s essential to trim body fat through diet and aerobic exercise and build strong abdominal muscles through frequent core exercise sessions.

8 Core Exercises

The core (composed of the oft-mentioned upper and lower abdominals as well as the side, back, psoas, and glutei muscles) provides a muscular framework that protects internal organs, aids movement, and lends balance and stability to the whole body.

Try this workout to train your upper and lower abs and obliques, and work on deep core strength, or mix and match any of the exercises at home. And don’t forget that proper nutrition plays a huge role in seeing the results you want, so be sure to supplement your workouts with healthy meals and high-protein snacks.

Exercise One: Crunch

Targets: Upper abdominals

Lying flat on the ground with knees bent and hands behind the head, push lower back into the ground and lift upper back off the ground and slightly forward.

Exercise Two: Vertical Leg Crunch

Targets: Upper abdominals

Lie flat on the floor with lower back pressed to the ground. Place hands behind head. Extend legs straight up, crossed at the ankles with a slight bend in the knee. Contract abdominal muscles by lifting torso toward knees. Make sure to keep chin off your chest with each contraction. Exhale as you contract upward; inhale as you return to the starting position.

Exercise Three: V-Ups

Targets: Upper abdominals

Lie faceup with legs and arms extended. Keeping knees and elbows locked, simultaneously raise upper body and lower body while trying to touch fingers to toes.

Exercise Four: Raised Knee-In

Targets: Lower abdominals

Lie on back, arms along sides, palms down and just under lower back and butt. Press the small of your back against the floor and extend legs outward, with heels about 3 inches above the floor. Keeping lower back against the floor, lift left knee toward chest. Your right leg should remain hovering above the floor. Hold, then straighten left leg to the starting position and repeat with right leg.

Exercise Five: Reverse Crunch

Targets: Lower abdominals

Lie flat on the floor with lower back pressed to the ground. Place hands behind head or extend out alongside body. Crossing legs at ankles, lift feet up. Pull lower back off the floor as you contract abs. Reach legs toward the ceiling with each contraction.

Exercise Six: Flutter Kicks

Targets: Lower abdominals

Lie faceup with legs extended, toes pointed, and hands tucked underneath glutes to support lower back. Lift both legs off the floor a few inches and alternately kick legs up and down.

Exercise Seven: Side Plank

Targets: Obliques

Lie on side with lower arm bent at the elbow. Place lower elbow beneath shoulder and place upper hand on hip. Align ankles, hips, shoulders, and head. Push body toward the ceiling, balancing on the edge of your bottom shoe with one foot directly over the other.

Exercise Eight: Lying Side Crunch

Targets: Obliques

Lie on your side with knees bent at a right angle and twisted to the left. Curl upper body, lifting shoulders off the floor a few inches. Pause at the top of the contraction and slowly lower back down. Switch sides and repeat.

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