A strong core makes it easier to do everything—from swinging a golf club to running to reaching for something high on a shelf or even just bending down to tie your shoes. Weak core muscles can lead to poor posture, low back pain, and injury. In other words, the core is everything.
What Exactly Is the Core?
Most people mistakenly equate the term core with the abdominal muscles. While the core does include the abdominal muscles, it is so much more than that.
The core is actually comprised of all of the muscles in the torso that keep the body stable and balanced—so think everything from the shoulders to the thighs, on both the front and back of the body. In fact, the back is a hugely important part of the core. There are actually 29 muscles that make up the core, including the glutes and the paraspinal muscles.
The core is sort of a machine of muscles all working together. There are two types of core muscles: stabilizers, which attach directly to the spine and support its movement and muscle; and movers, which support the stabilizer muscles and work with them to move your body. All of these muscles work together to support and move your body safely.
The Importance of a Strong Core
The core is where all movement in the body originates. The core muscles work together to stabilize your trunk and allow for movement of your limbs around a stable core. The core muscles support the spine when we sit, stand, bend over, twist, exercise, and more. In other words, developing a strong core is critical for all of the ways in which we want to move our bodies—whether to ride a bike, kick a soccer ball, pick up a child, or swing a golf club.
The torso is the body’s center of power, so the stronger you are in that area, the easier all of your movements will be and the healthier you will be.
If the core muscles are weak, the body doesn’t work as efficiently and effectively. A weak core leaves you susceptible to poor posture, low back pain, and injuries. These injuries often occur because other muscles have to pick up the slack from the weak core.
Strengthening the core can prevent such injuries. In fact, most people who complain about a “bad back” would benefit from a simple core-strengthening program.
Building Core Strength
Core strength training is often referred to as “functional training” because it focuses on working the body as a whole rather than as separate muscle groups. For example, it is rare in our daily lives to isolate a muscle the way we do in a weight room. Functional training requires us to do activities that require balance and stabilization, thereby working all of the muscles together. This translates into daily life activities.
Think of your core as a pillar. Core strength exercises work to strengthen all of the muscles of the torso from top to bottom and front to back—in order to create balance, stand tall, and be able to move in all planes of motion.
There are countless ways to work the core. Here are a few basics to get you started:
Forearm Plank: Balance on the forearms and toes, holding the body in a straight line. Hold this position for 30 seconds to one minute and repeat twice.
Side Forearm Plank: Turn to the side and balance on one forearm and stack one foot on top of the other. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides. For an added challenge, extend your top arm toward the ceiling and/or lift the top leg.
Glute Bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift hips until knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line. Hold and repeat. (You can add several variations, such as lifting a leg or placing the feet on a ball.)
Quadruped: Balance on hands and knees. Extend your right arm and your left leg and hold for a count of 10. Switch, extending your left arm and right leg and hold. Repeat five times on each side.
Reap the Benefits
By spending even just a few minutes each day working your core, you’ll reap the benefits. You may notice:
- Improved posture
- Improved balance
- Greater efficiency of movement
- Increased power output
- Reduced risk of injury
- A strong core will help keep you healthy and active throughout your life.