Your core isn't just your abs! It includes your back and hip muscles, too. That's why it's important to develop your core strength through full-body exercises. But you don't have to hit the gym every day, either.
Your own bodyweight can provide all the resistance you need to strengthen your abs, lower back and pelvis. Developing core strength provides a strong, stable base for powerful movements in your arms and legs, improving physical fitness and decreasing risk of injury when exercising.
Skip the Sit-Up
For years, the king of core workouts was the traditional situp. However, research points toward stability exercises, such as the side-plank, as a better alternative to the classic sit-up.
In a study conducted by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, situps were responsible for a surprising 56 percent of injuries during the Army's three-part physical fitness test, in a pool of 1,500 U.S. Army soldiers.
Other full-body core exercises, such as the front plank, side plank and quadraplex, are considered a safer and more effective alternative, giving you a core workout without the additional risk of a back injury.
The Front Plank
The front plank is the quintessential full-body core workout, and may be easier to perform than a push-up. Start by laying on your stomach with your arms tucked underneath your body and palms flat on the floor.
Next, lift your body off the ground, supporting your weight on your elbows, forearms, and hands. Your hips and shoulders should be aligned, and your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your head.
Hold this position as long as you can; when you have to, take a break until recovered, and then repeat. If you're having trouble with the full forward plank, you can try the workout with your knees on the ground and work your way up to a full plank.
The Side Plank
Drawing from the yoga pose vasisthasana, the side plank is a full-body core exercise that utilizes a static position to develop strength. To perform a side plank, lie down on your right side and place your right hand flat on the floor underneath you.
Straighten your right arm so that you're lifting your torso and hips off the ground. Your right arm should form a straight line from your shoulder to the floor. Keep your body straight so that your knees, hips, torso and shoulders are all aligned, engaging your abdominals.
You can raise your left arm straight into the air for balance. Hold the pose for one minute, or as long as possible, and then switch sides.
Developed as part of the U.S. Army's "4 for the Core" workout system, the quadraplex is a dynamic full-body exercise that engages the core and helps train your coordination and balance.
Start on your hands and knees with your back parallel to the floor, then slowly lift your left leg and right arm until they're pointing straight out. Hold this position for five seconds without arching your back, and then slowly return to the starting position.
Then, alternate with your right leg and left arm. Repeat for up to one minute or longer for a deeper core workout.
- The Wall Street Journal: Why You Can Stop Doing Sit-Ups
- U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine: Incidence of Acute Injury Related to Fitness Testing of U.S. Army Personnel
- The Wall Street Journal: Doing the Side Plank Reduced Spinal Curling in Scoliosis Patients
- American College of Sports Medicine: Best Back Exercises for Various Populations
- U.S. Army: Army Pocket Physical Training Guide