By: Lori Parmenter, Clinical Exercise Physiologist with Women’s HeartCare
Many people compare “core” with their abdominal muscles. However, it is much more than your abs. Traditional stomach crunches or sit-ups target just a few muscles. The core is made up of the many muscles that run up and down the spine — in the front, back, and sides — that help you bend, stand, twist, lift, move and more. Strong core muscles make it easier to do everything from swinging a golf club to getting a glass from the top shelf or bending down to tie your shoes. Weak core muscles leave you susceptible to poor posture, lower back pain and muscle injuries. Weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function-and can sap power from many of the moves you make. So, properly building up your core cranks up the power.
A strong core increases balance and stability. It can help prevent falls and injuries during sports and other activities. A strong, flexible core helps with everything including:
- Everyday activities—Bending to pick up a package, turning to look behind you or standing in line at a store are just a few of the many everyday actions that depend on your core and you might not think about it until it is too difficult or painful.
- On-the-job tasks—Jobs that involve lifting, twisting and standing all depend on core muscles. Even sitting at your desk for hours depend on your core. Phone calls, typing and computer use can make your back muscles stiff and sore, especially if you’re not strong enough to practice good posture and aren’t taking sufficient breaks.
To be safe and effective, core muscle strengthening exercises require proper alignment and progression from one type of exercise to another—adjusted to your body and fitness level. Also, consult a clinician before starting any fitness program if you haven’t been physically active, have back problems or some other medical condition.
Exercises for Strengthening Your Core
You can start by learning how to “squeeze in,” gently but firmly tighten the abdominal muscles, squeezing the navel in toward the small of the back. The tailbone should be slightly tucked. Practice holding this position for 10 seconds at a time while breathing normally. Once you get the hang of this, you can start doing some core exercises.
A bridge is a classic core exercise. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your back in a neutral position, not arched and not pressed into the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise your hips off the floor until your hips are aligned with your knees and shoulders. Hold the position as long as you can without breaking your form.
Exercises that strengthen abdominal and other core muscles should be part of an overall fitness plan that includes regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, 30 minutes per day, most days of the week. It is recommended to get 20-30 minutes of strength training two to three times a week, and that is a good time to fit in a few exercises designed to work the core. Having a strong core will not only make you look better by changing your posture, it will help you move better and keep you protected during many of life’s daily activities.