When it comes to our bodies, it’s important that we look past the much-altered images seen in advertising and social media. Sure, we all want to look our best, but focusing on function over form is more important.
This is particularly true of the ‘core,’ which is much more than a six-pack or a trim waist.
The core comprises not only the abdominal muscles but the whole lower part of our torso or midsection. Therefore, when training the core, it’s critical to include all the muscles that serve this region, which means our back, front, and sides. A strong, flexible, resilient core will improve your sports performance. Even more importantly, a strong core will see you through an active, purposeful, and busy lifestyle.
Any time you lift something, kick something, run to the bus stop, or play a sport, you should, ideally, be engaging your core. Engaging your core means that you will use these muscles to stabilize your trunk and better protect yourself from injury.
The core muscles include a large back muscle (erector spinae) that allows you to stand up straight and a smaller back muscle (multifidus) that works to support your spine.
When you twist, rotate, or bend your trunk, you are using the internal and external obliques which run along the sides of your torso. When you lean forward, the rectus abdominus muscle is at work. Deep inside your lower trunk is the transverse abdominus, and this critical muscle works hard to stabilize your pelvis.
Further, an engaged core will allow you to transfer greater power to your four limbs. If you have ever watched a martial artist perform intricate punch and kick sequences, you can see that their explosive speed and power comes from their core.
A resilient core will also improve your posture; remember that ideal posture will lessen your risk for back and shoulder aches, as well as improve your breathing! In addition, with a strong core and ideal posture, your body will be better able to move efficiently and be ready for any forces acting on it, such as a slip or a sudden push.
A solid, efficient, and effective core workout can be done anywhere, requiring no complicated, expensive equipment! There are more core exercises than can be counted, and some are obviously preferred over others. However, there are a few core exercises that should be avoided.
When any exercise involves the spine, those that involve rapid or ballistic movement, compression, or hyperextension should be avoided or done under close professional supervision. The old classic sit up, and crunches are not as safe or as effective as once thought. The same goes for the ab roller, v sits, and some versions of the Russian twist.
For a great core workout, add the following exercises to your routine: front planks, dead bug, bridges, bicycle crunch, superhero, stir the pot, and bird dog. A stability ball is a fantastic and affordable addition to your home gym. Dozens of functional, fun, and challenging core exercises can be performed with the ball. Worried about rolling off? Stability ball exercises range from beginner to super advanced.
The core is notoriously tricky to train. Many feel that they have the core ‘engaged’ when the muscles are not actually engaged at all. For this reason, engaging the services of a personal trainer, physiotherapist, or kinesiologist is well worth your time and money. With your permission, they can offer some hands-on repositioning of your body and guidance as you move through new and challenging movement patterns.
Again, many desire the firm, flat tummy seen on social media. While these images are often heavily manipulated, the look is more than just deceptive. What you really need from your core workout is exercises designed to strengthen the entire core and function. A functional exercise translates well to real-life situations; for the core, this may mean lifting a heavy bag of groceries from your trunk, sports, or lifting a toddler up into your arms.