You’ve probably heard fitness experts discuss the question “Why are core muscles important?” From helping with daily movements to helping us maintain Pilates posture, our abs play a vital role in helping stabilize and balance us. Not only that, but a strong core improves our posture and reduces the risk of injury. It’s also a good indicator of overall health.We use our abs while running and lifting weights as we perform various movements on the best yoga mats (opens in new tab)as well as activities such as surfing, SUP surfing, golf and dancing.
There are a few different ways to strengthen and tone your core.Bodyweight exercises, weight-bearing exercises, Pilates, and yoga can all help you build these muscles, along with equipment like ab rollers and optimal resistance bands (opens in new tab) It can also improve your exercise level. But before you go online to find exercise equipment, understanding why your core muscles are important and how specific exercises target them will help you determine the types of exercises to add to your routine.
Which muscles make up the core?
“The core actually includes many muscles that run along the entire length of the torso, front and rear, including the inner thighs, hamstrings, hips, and pelvic floor,” says Ivana Daniell, Posture and Movement Specialist (opens in new tab). “They created a natural corset that supports our posture.”
The muscles that make up our core can engage individually, which is why many abdominal-focused exercises target different areas.
“Your deepest muscle layer is your transversus abdominis,” says exercise physiologist Hayley Edwards. “This muscle stabilizes your spine and protects your internal organs. Second, you have your rectus abdominis, which is the outer muscle that goes from your ribcage to your pelvis that flexes. Then, you have your external oblique. And the internal obliques, which are on the outside right and outside of your body. Finally, you have your pyramidal muscles. This muscle is located in the lower part of your pelvis, and it supports your pubic bone and other abdominal muscles.”
Signs of a weak core
Although we use our core muscles every day, many of us don’t realize how important they are for injury prevention. A study in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders (opens in new tab) showed that a weaker core was associated with chronic low back pain and an increased risk of falls, especially in older women.
“Most neck and back problems are related to a weak core,” explains Daniel. “A strong, balanced core will help maintain posture and reduce stress on the spine. Training the core will also correct postural imbalances that can lead to injury.”
A weak core might look like this:
- lower back pain
- poor posture
- poor balance
- difficulty getting up
“The biggest benefit of strengthening the core is to develop functional fitness — the kind of physical fitness that allows us to easily perform our daily activities,” says Daniel.
How do you work to strengthen your core?
Now that we’ve discovered “why are core muscles important?”, how do we strengthen them?
“The most effective way to build core strength is to directly target the abdominal muscles with relevant isolation exercises,” says PT Tom Oper“These include crunches, leg raises, and planks. Incorporating larger compound movements like squats and deadlifts when using weights also strengthens the core.”
Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and active during a workout can help stabilize you, especially during weight-bearing exercises, but sometimes it can be useful to isolate certain areas of your abdomen.
“To build core strength, the plank is one of the best exercises you can do,” says Opper. “Because the plank requires you to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your toes without ‘collapse’, it engages and strengthens all areas of your core, from the rectus abdominis (front abs) to the obliques (lateral abs), Your erector spinae. If you do the plank correctly, it should be challenging. You can also reverse the movement by placing your knees on the floor.”
Another popular core workout is the dead bug. “It’s a great exercise to improve front (front) core stability,” says Opper. If we don’t use our core properly during weight-bearing exercises like heavy squats, deadlifts, or overhead presses, weight can easily build up in the lower back, which can significantly increase the risk of injury when the back is hyperextended. “
Finally, it’s important not to overlook your obliques (your side abs), which protect your spine while helping to rotate your torso. “There are several exercises that build oblique strength, combined with movements such as Russian twists and side bends that are important for building a strong, well-rounded core,” says Opper.
core strengthening exercises
“A strong core is a hallmark of overall health and is also important for preventing injuries, especially as you age,” says the performance coach Alger Thiruchelvam“The following exercises can help you strengthen different areas of your core by working different abdominal muscles.”
90º static hold
This is a tough isometric exercise. Lie on your back and raise your knees to 90º with your hands on your knees. The idea is to push as hard as possible into your knees as your legs resist. Your goal is to create a balance where no movement occurs. Be sure to push as hard as possible. Do three sets of 20 seconds each.
This is a functional and athletically healthy workout. Begin by lying on your back with your knees in the air and bending 90 degrees so your shins are parallel to the floor. Your arms should point toward the ceiling.
Slowly lower one leg to the floor so that it hovers above the ground. At the same time, lower your arms overhead so that they are also hovering above the floor. Return your limbs to their original position, then do the same with the opposite arm and leg.
Keep your lower back in contact with the floor at all times. Perform three sets of 30 seconds.
Barbell Oblique Crunches
This helps develop the abdominal line, called the obliques. Stand tall with the bar across the top of your back muscles. Perform standing side crunch and alternate descents to the sides. As you become more confident, you can lower the weight and increase the weight of the bar you use. It is very important to keep a straight line with your back. Rounding or arching can cause injury. Try three sets of 16 reps.
How many core exercises should I do each week?
“Typically, I recommend core-strengthening exercises 2 to 3 times a week, although this may need to be adjusted based on your tolerance, training history, or personal needs,” says Opper. “If you’re already doing a balanced resistance (weight) training program that includes a variety of compound movements, you’ll rarely need to do specific exercises that focus on core work. Instead, you can do core exercises as finishers at the end of your workout, or As a ‘filler’ between other exercise sets, this provides the added benefit of helping you ‘feel’ your core throughout your workout.”
Abdominal trunk muscle weakness and its association with chronic low back pain and falls risk in older women (opens in new tab)