By Nicole Radziszewski |
It’s hard to overstate the importance of a strong core. Whether it’s keeping you upright while reading this article or powering you through tough, explosive workouts, the body’s core supports and enables nearly every move you make.
“The foundation of movement and physical fitness is posture — the ability to maintain joint alignment whether you are moving, sitting, or standing,” explains Mark Lauren, U.S. Special Operations trainer and author of You Are Your Own Gym. “Having good posture is largely dependent on your body being able to maintain a strong midsection.”
Many people think “core” is synonymous with “abs.” While abdominals do make up a major part of your midsection musculature, the core includes much more than just the front of your torso. Some fitness experts define the area as your trunk, front, and back, from your pelvis to the bottom of your sternum. Other experts include your neck down to your upper thighs.
Wherever you draw the line, the muscles of the core act as mobilizers — enabling rotation, flexion, lateral flexion, and extension of the trunk — and as stabilizers, preventing us from collapsing or tipping over when faced with a load.
If you’re a runner, you need stability to keep your pelvis aligned. If you’re a lifter, you need strong core muscles to stabilize your spine during heavy, technical lifts.
To effectively strengthen these muscles, your workouts should incorporate a variety of functional movements, says Lauren. He offers the following suggestions:
- In real life, the demands placed on the core are constantly changing, so your body needs to be adaptable. Your workouts can include a few go-to exercises, but you should also periodically freshen up your routine with new movements. This trains your body to adapt to new situations and increases its metabolic response to exercise and muscle development.
Because they require spinal and pelvic stabilization, body-weight exercises are particularly good for developing core strength.
Lauren designed the following body-weight routine, which is best done three to five times a week, to target the core from all angles.
1. The Bodyrock
- Rock forward and backward slowly and steadily. Remember to keep your back flat and abs engaged throughout the movement.
- Repeat with the opposite arm and opposite leg. Remember to keep your core tight and your hips level throughout the movement.
3. Tripod Scissor Kicks
- Repeat on the left side. Continue alternating sides. Remember to keep your head, neck, and shoulders aligned throughout the movement.
- Drive your weight through your heels as you engage your glutes and straighten your legs to rise to a standing position.
5. Dead Bug
- Perform the movement with your left leg and right arm. Continue alternating sides.
Any weight-bearing exercise also qualifies as a core exercise, whether you’re doing squats at the gym or taking your child out of his car seat, says U.S. Special Operations trainer and author Mark Lauren. To make sure your core is functioning effectively while you move, Lauren suggests checking your form at the beginning and end of every repetition or movement. Follow this checklist.