You’ve probably heard fitness professionals discuss the question “why are core muscles important?” From helping with daily movements to helping us maintain Pilates positions, our abdominal muscles play a vital role in helping us stabilize and balance. Not only that, but a strong core improves our posture and reduces the risk of injury. It is also a great indicator of overall fitness. We engage our core as we run and lift weights, when we hold various moves on the best yoga mats (opens in a new tab)and for activities such as surfing, SUP boarding, golf and dancing.
There are several ways you can strengthen and tone your core. Bodyweight exercises, weight training, pilates and yoga can help you engage these muscles and equipment like ab rollers and top resistance bands. (opens in a new tab) it can also level up your training. But, before you go online looking for fitness equipment, understanding why core muscles are important and how specific exercises can target them will help you determine the type of workouts to add to your routine.
Which muscles make up the core?
“The core actually includes many muscles that run the entire length of the torso, front and back, including the inner thigh, hamstrings, glutes, and pelvic floor,” says Ivana Daniell, posture and pelvic floor expert. movement (opens in a new tab). “They create a natural corset that supports our posture”.
The muscles that make up our core can be individually engaged, which is why many abs-focused workouts target different areas.
“Your deepest muscle layer is the transverse abdominis,” says exercise physiologist Hayley Edwards. “This muscle stabilizes the spine and protects your internal organs. Second, you have your rectus abdominis, which is the external muscle that extends from the rib cage to the pelvic bone and allows for flexion. Hence, you have the external and internal oblique muscles, which are located on the outer right and outer left sides of your body. Finally, you have your own pyramid. This muscle sits low on the pelvis and supports the pubic bone and other abdominal muscles.
Signs of a weak core
Despite using our core muscles every day, many of us don’t realize how integral they are to injury prevention. A study from the Journal of Musculoskeletal Disorders BMC (opens in a new tab) showed that a weak core is associated with chronic low back pain and an increased risk of falling, particularly for older women.
“Most neck and back problems are related to a weak core,” explains Daniell. “Strong and balanced core muscles will help maintain posture and reduce strain on the spine. Training the core muscles also corrects postural imbalances that can lead to injuries ”.
A weak core can look like:
- Lumbar back pain
- Incorrect posture
- Poor balance
- Difficulty getting up
“The biggest benefit of strengthening the core muscles is the development of functional fitness, which is a type of fitness that allows us to perform daily activities with ease,” says Daniell.
How can you work to strengthen your core?
Now we have discovered ‘why are core muscles important?’, How can we strengthen them?
“The most effective way to build core strength is to target the abdominal muscles directly through relevant isolation exercises,” says PT. Tom Opper. “These include crunches, leg lifts and planks. Incorporating larger compound movements that engage the core when using weights, such as squats and deadlifts, will also strengthen the core. ”
Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and active during exercises can help stabilize you, particularly during weighted movements, but sometimes isolating certain areas of the abdomen can be helpful.
“For building core strength, the plank is one of the best exercises you can do,” says Opper. “Since the plank requires you to keep a straight line from your shoulders to your toes without ‘collapsing’, it engages and strengthens all areas of your core, from the right abdominal muscles (front abdominals) to your obliques (lateral abdominals) to your erectors. If you are doing the plank correctly, it should be challenging.You can also regress the movement by dropping your knees to the ground.
Another popular core workout is deadbugs. “This is a fantastic exercise for improving anterior (anterior) core stability,” says Opper. If we don’t engage our core properly during weight training exercises such as heavy squats, deadlifts, or overhead presses, it is all too easy for weight to build up on the lower back, which can significantly increase the risk of injury when the back hyperextends. “
Finally, it’s important not to overlook your obliques (the lateral abdominal muscles), which protect the spine while helping in trunk rotation. “There are several exercises that develop oblique strength and incorporating a variety of movements, such as Russian Twists and Side Bends, is important for building a strong, well-rounded core,” says Opper.
Exercises that strengthen the core
“A strong core is a sign of overall good health and is also crucial for preventing injuries, particularly with age,” says the performance coach. Arj Thiruchelvam. “The following exercises can help you strengthen different areas of your core by engaging different abdominal muscles.”
The static seal at 90 °
This is tough isometric exercise. Lying on your back, lift your knees up to 90 degrees and place your hands on your knees. The idea is to push as hard as you can on the knees while the legs resist. You are aiming to create a balance, where no movement occurs. Make sure you push as hard as you can. Do three sets, holding each for 20 seconds.
This is functional and athletic health exercise. Start lying on your back with your knees in the air, bent 90 degrees so your lower legs are parallel to the floor. Your arms should be pointing towards the ceiling.
Slowly lower one leg to the floor, so that it is suspended just above the ground. At the same time, lower your arm above your head so that it is also suspended just above the floor. Return the limbs to their original position, then perform the same movement with the opposite arm and leg.
Always keep your lower back in contact with the floor. Go for three 30-second sets.
Oblique barbell crunches
This helps develop abdominal lines, known as oblique muscles. Stand with a barbell on your upper back muscles. Do a standing side crunch and alternate which sides you fall on. As you get more confident, lower the crunch and increase the weight of the barbell you use. It is very important to keep a straight line with the back. Rounding or arching can cause injury. Try three sets of 16 reps.
How many times a week should I do core exercises?
“Typically, I recommend working on core-strengthening exercises two to three times a week, although it may need to be adjusted based on tolerance, training history, or individual needs,” says Opper. “If you are already following a balanced (weight) resistance training program that incorporates a variety of compound movements, you rarely need to dedicate a specific session to basic work. Instead, you can include core exercises towards the end of your workout as a finisher or as a “filler” between sets of other exercises, which has the added benefit of helping you “feel” your core during the session. “
Muscle weakness of the abdominal trunk and its association with chronic low back pain and risk of falling in elderly women (opens in a new tab)