Strengthening Your Core: Benefits and How-Tos

Plank exercise
Plank exercise.

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It's easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to workout routines. Some prefer cardio (and only cardio). Others love leg day. Some prefer to work their upper body. But there's one muscle group that enables all of the others to be even stronger—the core. Made up of muscles that control the pelvis and spine, the core plays a part in balance and movement, making core strength training a vital addition to any workout routine.

The concept of core stability was introduced in 1990s by Hodges and Richardson while they were investigating trunk muscles in people with chronic low back pain, and has seen become a staple in rehabilitation and exercise. This article will explore why core strength is so important, and will help you determine which exercises you can do to further your own core strength.

Why a Strong Core Is Important

The "core" is made up of the lumbar vertebrae, pelvis, hip joints, and the structures that govern movement of this whole body area. The muscles in the core area include the transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles. Together, they work to provide stability to the spine.

Strengthening the core means targeting abdomen muscles that connect to the spine, pelvis and shoulders, which helps with good posture and forms the base of all arm and leg movements. The core may be the “middle” of the body, but it plays a part in many of your body's movements.

If the core isn’t strong, it can lead to loss of balance and a higher likelihood of falls, especially as you age. Core strength training reduces the risk of falls by helping the body maintain balance and coordination.

A strong core is vital for physical activity too. Studies show that core training can increase strength by an average of 30 percent, and increase balance and functional performance by 23 percent among older adults.

Benefits of Strengthening Your Core

Having a strong core is vital for good posture, balance and stability. Core strength exercises can help increase stability of the lumbar spine, and that's what accounts for the improvement in balance. Core strength also plays a role in helping us change positions when sitting, standing, and walking.

The four core muscles (transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles) need to be strong so they can help with trunk stability during exercise.

For physically active people, a strong core can improve athletic performance. Core strength improves balance and posture during movement that requires landing and contact, such as jumping, running, or playing tennis.

People with back injuries are often prescribed physiotherapy exercises that focus on core strength. That's because core muscles protect the spine from excessive force, play a role in body stabilization, help with recovery from injury, and relieve chronic lower back pain. In addition to being used to treat back pain and injury, studies show that strong core muscles help to prevent injuries from sports.

Five Ways to Strengthen Your Core

There are dozens of exercises that work on the transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles and will help you strengthen this core area. Here are five exercises to get you started.

Forearm Plank

Forearm Plank

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Studies show that this popular exercise helps target the internal oblique muscles. This forearm plank is slightly easier than a standard plank, in which your arms extended straight up.

  1. On a mat, lie on your stomach. Rest your forearms on the mat, positioning your elbows directly below your shoulders. Your hands should be facing forwards and your arms should be parallel.
  2. Extend your legs out behind you so your body forms one straight line, and curl your toes under, resting them on the mat.
  3. In plank position, keep your lower back straight and squeeze in your core. Keep your neck in a neutral position and hold for 20 seconds. If you can't do this right away, aim for 5 seconds and keep practicing.
  4. Repeat 3-5 times.

Side Plank

Side Plank

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Like the forearm plank, the side plank is also useful for strengthening the oblique abdominal muscles.

  1. On a mat, lie on your left side with your legs straight out, stacked one upon the other.
  2. Slowly lift your body up, carrying your weight on your left forearm and elbow, and the side of your left foot. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your ankles.
  3. Once you are balanced, place your right hand in the air (perpendicular to your body), or bend your arm and put your hand on your hip. Hold for 20 seconds or as long as you are able.
  4. Repeat on your right side.        

Bridge

Bridge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This core-strengthening pose activates your entire trunk and works to strengthen your butt, thighs, and abdominal muscles. It also helps with overall core strength and spine stability.

  1. Lie on your back. Place your feet on the mat, hip-width apart.
  2. Place your hands at your sides with your palms facing down.
  3. Raise your hips up until your knees are in line with your shoulders. Your head and shoulders should still be touching the floor, only your hips and torso are raised.
  4. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.

Crunch

Crunch

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

There are many variations of this exercise, which engages your core and abdominal muscles. Once you've mastered the basic crunch, you can add legs for a bicycle crunch or try a reverse crunch.

  1. Lie flat on your back and bend your knees.
  2. Place your hands behind your head or across your chest.
  3. Lift your shoulders off the floor by about 1-2 inches, while contracting your abdominal muscles. Imagine you're holding an orange between your chin and your chest to help keep your neck straight.
  4. Hold 5 seconds and release. Repeat 15 to 20 times.

V-Sit

V Sit

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

This intermediate exercise takes some balance and skill. It's a good way to strengthen the the rectus abdominis, obliques, and hip flexors, while improving core strength. Here's how to do it:

  1. Sit on a mat or on the floor. For this exercise, you will balance on your bum.
  2. Extend your legs out in front at a 45 degree angle.
  3. With your legs raised, reach your arms forward so your fingertips extend past your knees.
  4. Your head, torso and legs will now be in a V-shape, which you can hold for a few seconds. With practice, you will be able to hold it for longer.
  5. Repeat 4-5 times.

A Word From Verywell

There's no doubt that having a strong core is important for good posture, balance, and stability. The best way to keep your core strong is with core strength exercises, such as planks, crunches and bridges. If you are new to core strength training, start slowly by holding positions for a few seconds with fewer reps, and build up strength and stamina over time.

If you have an injury, or any hesitations or concerns about starting a new routine, speak with a healthcare professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the signs of a weak core?

    Loss of balance, poor posture and a higher likelihood of falls are signs of a weak core.

  • How can I strengthen core muscles at home?

    Exercises such as a bridge, V-sit, plank, and crunch can all be done at home.

  • How long does it take to build a strong core?

    One study showed that eight weeks of core strength training can help improve balance and core endurance.

 

 

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9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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