Olympics 2016 in Rio – the sheer excitement of watching 11,000 superbly fit athletes from all over the world compete against each other in the Olympic spirit, is almost palpable.
Watching them perform, it occurred to me that irrespective of the sport they specialised in, the one thing they all had in common was a strong core. Without it, they wouldn’t have gotten to the top of their game.
Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever wondered, as I have in the past, what some of the best exercises to strengthen the core are?
There is a lot of confusion and misinformation on this subject leading to frustration and disappointment for many.
This doesn’t have to be the case.
In this article, I want to get behind the core musculature and share with you 6 of the best-known exercises which are designed to isolate and strengthen the core.
What Strengthening the Core is Not
Before we go into the exercises, let’s be clear that strengthening your core is not about achieving shredded abs.
The way to achieve shredded abs is through a planned diet.
The focus here is to increase the core strength which will improve overall health, fitness, and ultimately your zest for life.
What is Core
Let’s understand the term “Core Strength” in more detail.
To do that let’s identify the muscles that make up the core.
The main muscle groups that form the core are:
1. Internal and External Obliques
These control the trunk rotation (twist to the left and right) and lateral flexing of the torso.
2. Transverse Abdominis
Compression of the abdomen is controlled by this muscle. When you draw your belly button into your spine, you are engaging the Transverse Abdominis. This is the deepest core muscle and its main function is to protect, strengthen and stabilise the spine.
3. Rectus Abdominis
More commonly known as the six-pack, this is the muscle we usually train when we want to develop our abs. Its main function is trunk flexion (forward bend or curl up action) AND… to make you look good!
Benefits of a Strong Core
The core musculature work together and a strong core provides many long-term health and fitness benefits.
Some of the main benefits are:
Protection and Injury Prevention
- The core contains and provides a protective layer for your internal organs and the spine. The stronger the core, the better protection it provides reducing the chances for injury.
- It supports the body from extreme movements like unwanted twists and bending. This protects the pelvis during movement and protects the body from extreme movements.
- A strong core will go a long way in reducing the occurrence of back pain and injuries. When lifting a heavy object, for example, a strong core will take the pressure of the spine and provide support to the upper body.
Balance and Flexibility
- A strong core ensures support between the upper and lower halves of the body. It allows us to twist, turn, bend, stand, walk and run without injury and losing balance.
Health and Fitness
- Core strength promotes deeper and fuller breathing. This is directly responsible for many long-term health and fitness benefits.
- Core strength allows you to do your everyday tasks like walking, standing, bending, turning, etc. In fact, you engage your core for just about any body movement you can think of. The stronger the core, the easier it is to go about your everyday activities. Aches and pains are minimal.
- Core strength plays a central role in body posture. A strong core will allow you to stand tall. Body posture is an important indicator of confidence and physical health.
Mental and Emotional Well-Being
- The physical benefits of core strength influence our mental and emotional state. It helps balance the mind, body, and spirit.
6 of the Best Exercises to Strengthen Core
The main function of the core is to resist trunk extension (bend backward), flexion (bend forward), and rotation (twist to the left and right).
So the best exercises to strengthen core will be based on anti-extension, anti-flexion, and anti-rotation of the trunk.
|Please remember at all times that if you feel pain while doing any of the recommended exercises below, please STOP immediately to prevent injury.|
1. The Deadbug
It may look easy to do but don’t let appearances deceive you. The Deadbug is one of the best anti-extension exercises that strengthen the core.
An anti-extension exercise prevents the lower back from overarching.
The important points to note for this exercise are:
- The lower back is flat on the ground. Press it hard into the floor. There should be no arching of the lower back.
- Throughout the exercise pull your belly button towards your spine to engage the Transverse Abdominis – the deepest core muscle.
- Breath deep but do not hyperventilate.
Watch fitness professional, Kristy Lee Wilson demonstrating The Dead Bug below.
2. Body Saw Plank
Before you attempt the Body Saw Plank, I strongly recommend that you are able to perform a basic plank for at least a minute with ease and maintain good form.
The Body Saw is another superb anti-extension exercise.
The important point to note for this exercise is that the spine is kept neutral and glutes engaged throughout the exercise.
You are working against gravity and there is the tendency to arch your back and let your stomach drop. Do the best you can to avoid this.
Great demo of Body Saw by Baltimore personal trainer, Nick Tumminello below.
3. Kettlebell Suitcase Carry
This is an anti-lateral trunk flexion exercise designed to engage the obliques and one side of rectus abdominis.
Lateral trunk flexion refers to the bending of the trunk from side to side. Anti-lateral flexion exercises engage the muscles that prevent bending of the trunk.
The objective is to remain upright throughout the exercise with no lateral trunk flexion (bending) at all.
See a demo of the Kettlebell Suitcase Carry from Personal Trainer Brian Tabor below.
4. Off Bench Oblique Hold
This is another strong anti-lateral trunk flexion exercise for the obliques and the side of rectus abdominis.
The objective again is to keep the back straight throughout the exercise with no bending at all.
See a demo video by Sgt K Fitness below
5. Pallof Press
This is an excellent anti-rotational exercise where the core works against the rotation. This exercise engages the obliques and the rectus abdominis muscles.
Choose optimum weights for this exercise. The weight should allow you to perform the exercise slowly while maintaining a straight back.
Yuri Elkaim demonstrates the Pallof press beautifully in the video below.
6. Landmine Anti-Rotation
Another fantastic anti-rotation exercise for the obliques and the rectus abdominis muscles.
The aim is to keep the torso straight while engaging the core to resist the rotatory movement of the Landmine exercise.
As with all the other exercises, the correct technique and maintaining good form are very important. So choose optimum weights for this exercise.
See a demo of Landmine Anti-Rotation by WillPrepare Fitness below.
Core Training Plan
Its best to include core training after your regular workout sessions.
An example core training plan is shown below.
|2. Body Saws||3||10|
|3. Suitcase Carry||3||20 yards/side|
|1. Pallof Press||3||10/side|
|3. Oblique Holds||3||25 sec/side|
You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to have a strong core. It is something that everyone must strive for.
The article listed many health and fitness benefits that result from a strong core.
We looked at the core musculature in some detail and identified the individual muscles that make up the core. This knowledge lets us focus on the muscles to strengthen.
One of the main functions of the core is to resist extension, flexion, and rotation of the trunk. It makes sense therefore to consider exercises for the core that are anti-extension, anti-flexion, and anti-rotation.
We considered 6 best exercises to strengthen core that specifically targetted the core muscles and discussed them in detail along with video demonstrations.
There you have it. You now have, in your repertoire, the knowledge of “How to strengthen your core”.
All that remains is for you to take action.
Go on, make the investment in time and effort. You deserve it.