A strong core can improve your quality of life. According to Harvard Health Publications, it can relieve back pain, ease daily activities, prevent injuries and improve your balance, stability, posture and athletic performance. Also known as your body's pillar, the core comprises your back muscles, namely the erector spinae and multifidus; your abs, which include the obliques and transverse and rectus abdominis; and your gluteals or pelvic muscles. Various exercises can effectively strengthen these muscles.
Perform Plank Exercises
Isometric exercises such as planks can effectively strengthen your core. Often perceived as abdominal-strengthening exercises, planks really engage your entire body. During front planks, you hold your body straight as a plank in the "up" position of a pushup while your palms or elbows are on the floor directly under your shoulders and your legs are extended behind you. Side planks are done by holding your body up sideways with one palm or one elbow on the floor while you're balancing on the side of your foot. Work your way up to doing a plank for one minute.
Use a Stability Ball
The unstable surface of a stability ball forces you to engage your core. If you don't do this, you might end up on the floor. The ball can help you balance out the strength of your back and abs. It forces you to do the exercises slower and allows you to reach a greater range of motion. Crunches and oblique curls, for instance, are done while lying with your back on the ball and your fingertips on the sides of your head. You then crunch up, narrowing the space between your ribs and pelvis, or you crunch and add a twist as if to bring one elbow toward the opposite side of your body. Perform three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise.
Pretend You're a Superhero
As long as you do the superman exercise with perfect form, it can benefit your core. During this exercise, lie on the floor with your arms extended forward and your legs straightened behind you. You then engage your core and raise your arms, legs and chest off the floor as if you're flying like superman. Elongate your body. Rather than raising your limbs too high, aim for no more than a 20-degree angle to avoid overextending your lower back. Hold the contraction for three seconds before releasing it.
Perform One-Legged Exercises
Whether you're lifting weights or doing compound exercises, such as lunges and squats, your core always benefits because it is stabilizing your body during the exercises. If you want to give your regular exercise routine a boost, try doing exercises while standing on one leg. For instance, do one-legged squats, a one-legged bridge or dumbbell curls or rows with one leg raised. This forces you to engage your core to maintain good form.
Things to Consider
Before taking on core exercises, consult your doctor, especially if you have a health condition or injury. Core exercises can be part of your strength-training routine, and should be done after five to 10 minutes of low-intense cardio that warms up your body and prepares it for the work to come. You can work your core every day for about five minutes, or you can do core-strengthening exercises for 20 minutes about two to three times a week.
- Harvard Health Publications: The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core
- Solid to the Core; Janique Farand-Taylor
- Core Strength for 50+; Karl Knopf
- American Council on Exercise: Strengthen Your Abdominals With Stability Balls
- Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy; Bret Contreras
- American Council on Exercise: Single Leg Squat
- Harvard Health Publications: Core Exercises: 6 Workouts to Tighten Your Abs, Strengthen Your Back, and Improve Balance