If you’re new to exercising, or are even a seasoned veteran, focusing on core stability and strength is incredibly beneficial. The word “core” means: “the central, innermost, or most essential part of anything.” It’s the perfect way to describe your core muscles. Your core muscles are the most important group of muscles involved in literally anything you do, including sitting in a chair. Yoga, running, swimming, biking—basically any activity which consists of some use of your physical body will be benefitted by a stronger core.
Aside from improving body health, strengthening your core muscles offers a vast array of benefits. The most commonly mentioned benefit is injury prevention. A well-reinforced core provides stability to the spine, which will help to prevent injury to other parts of the body. A strong core also improves athletic performance, helps maintain proper posture, and helps ease lower back pain!
How do you build your core?
There are a wide variety of exercises you can perform to increase core strength, but we’ve narrowed down the list to a few essential exercises that target multiple muscles at once. We’ll be covering five essential exercises you can perform (in any order) that will steadily build your core muscles.
Working your core is more than just doing a few crunches and sit-ups every day (though those still help). The core is not just your abs, it’s a variety of different muscles scattered throughout your torso. There are around 10 muscles considered “core muscles,” which are simply the most commonly referenced muscles by experts. The most common exercises consist of anything from planks to bicycle crunches.
Getting started with a routine is relatively straightforward. It’s best to either design a routine that works for you or follow a routine designed by health experts.
1) The Plank
Planks are an age-old, tried-and-true exercise that excels at strengthening your core muscles, especially your abdominals.
Begin by entering a push-up position, only use your elbows to hold yourself up and place your palms on the floor. Keep your body as straight as possible, forming a plank. Try to hold yourself in this position for at least 30 to 60 seconds. Planks seem relatively easy when you start, but you’ll notice it getting harder as time passes. The first time you try planks, you’ll realize just how long 60 seconds can be. It helps if you have a mirror or someone with you to make sure you keep from arching your back or sagging your hips.
Squats are one of the most commonly used exercises by weightlifters and athletes. They are excellent for building lower body strength and leg strength. Squats are considered a compound exercise, which means they engage multiple muscles at the same time, making them great core-builders.
The squat can be a beginner exercise, but it is a bit more complicated than the others. Your form is especially important with these, so you should always have a spotter with you or begin with very little weight to learn the proper form first. If you can afford it, have a trainer show you the proper technique before adding more weight. Begin by standing underneath the rack bar, forming a wide stance. Lift the bar from the rack using only your legs, keeping the weight centered. Keeping your hips under the bar the whole time, and your back and torso straight, slowly bend your knees and work your way down. Push back up to your starting position, remembering to maintain posture throughout the entire process. If you’re using a bar, and at any time you feel like you may lose posture, do not push yourself beyond your limit—improper lifting of a squat bar can lead to serious injury.
3) Leg Lifts
The leg lift is an excellent exercise for abdominals, with the added benefit of working out the legs as well.
Start by laying on your back, arms at your side, and palms flat on the floor. Keep your legs close together. Once in position, slowly raise your legs up, keeping your toes pointed. Use your abdominals to keep your lower back pressed to the floor. Continue raising your legs until they are pointed at the ceiling, keeping your back pressed to the floor. Slowly lower your legs back down towards the floor, stopping just about an inch away.
Repeat 2 sets of around 10 reps to start, gradually working your way up to 2-3 sets of 10-20 lifts.
4) Hip Lifts
In addition to leg lifts, hip lifts are excellent at working your abs and core muscles.
Hip lifts are similar to leg lifts, only you start with your legs up in the air. Begin by laying on your back with your arms by your side (palms down again). Lift your legs up into the air, bending at the knee, until your thighs to your knees form a 90° angle and your knees to your feet form a 45° angle. It’s a bit easier to bend your legs, but you can also keep them straight. Once in position, raise your hips a few inches off the floor, keeping your legs pointed up. Gently lower your hips back down into the starting position.
Focus on using your lower abdominals as much as you can during lifting and lowering. Repeat these 5 to 10 times to start, slowing working up 15 or 20 as you gain strength.
5) Bridge (Hip Raises)
The bridge has direct benefits to your gluteus (butt) muscles, with the added benefit of strengthening your hamstrings and abdominals. It’s a great beginner exercise, as it’s safe for people with chronic back pain.
Start by lying flat on your back with your arms straight, palms down, and knees bent with your feet flat on the floor. Proceed to raise your pelvis into the air, tightening your abdominals and glutes. Do your best to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders and continue to tighten your muscles. Maintain the squeeze for at least 20 seconds and then return to where you started. You can repeat as many times as you like, though we recommend 5-10 reps to start.
These are some of the best exercises to increase core strength, but there are plenty of ways to target core muscles! There are plenty of alternatives to these and plenty of core strengthening exercises you can perform in any order. Remember that abdominals aren’t as important as your core strength, despite popular belief and portrayal. Abdominals are essential, but when working on your core, your abs will develop whether or not you focus on them. Core strength will improve every aspect of your life, including benefits to mental health (it’s not a cure-all though, of course).
Stay tuned for more articles as we’ll be covering more techniques to improve core strength, including low-impact exercises and more advanced exercises.