why strengthen your core?

Many people do crunches and other ab exercises in an effort to have a flatter tummy and/or have a “six-pack.”

Ab exercises alone aren’t going to get you either of these unless your body fat is already low enough, but strengthening your core has many other benefits.

First, what is your core?  At its simplest, your core is all of the muscles between the bottom of your rib cage and your groin (front, back, and sides), as well as the muscles that go up and down your spine.

So why bother with it?

It reduces the risk of low back problems. Low back muscles are part of your core. Keeping them strong and flexible helps reduce the chance of injury.  When you avoid low back exercises because you are afraid of low back injury, you’re actually increasing your odds of injury.

It helps your posture. Core muscles are the ones that hold you up. When they are stronger (in balance with each other), you stand and sit more upright.  Add in some strength training on your upper back and shoulders for a complete posture makeover.  (Being aware of slouching is another key element in this.)

When your posture is good, your body functions better. We’re designed to have our head stacked on top of our neck stacked on top of our shoulders stacked on top of our rib cage stacked on top of our hips.  When we hunch, we’re not stacked up any more.  Muscles that shouldn’t be working are working like crazy and muscles that should be working aren’t doing anything.  You’re using a lot of energy just to sit or stand, and it’s not so much the calorie-burning energy.

It helps you to balance. Your core muscles are what stop you from falling over.  Keep them in good shape, especially as you age, for better balance.

It increases athletic performance. A combination of the above reasons all play into performance in all athletics.  Even if you’re just running, you need posture and balance.  You want your energy to go to your legs, not to holding yourself up.

So basically, a strong core can make you look, feel, and perform better. Who could ask for more?

Some exercises you can do to strengthen your core:

  • crunches or any variation thereof
  • back extension
  • row
  • plank
  • side plank
  • hip raise (sometimes called bridge)
  • unstable table (sometimes called quadruped)
  • Superman
  • Russian ball twist

Many of these can be done on the floor or on a stability ball. Doing any exercise in an unstable environment (on one leg, on an Airex pad, etc.) also helps to strengthen your core because you are using it to maintain balance. For example, if you’re doing bicep curls, which are not a core exercise, you can throw in a core component by using dumbbells or a barbell and standing on one leg while you curl.


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