The Importance of Core Strength: Recommended Core Exercises for a Stronger You
Exclusively written for oraliv.com
By Lindsey Carley
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “abs are built in the kitchen.” And while there is some level of truth to this maxim, the idea obscures the fact that exercising your core is about so much more than aesthetics. As we mentioned before, core muscles play an integral role in giving you the flexibility and strength you need to perform everyday activities such as walking, getting dressed and even simply standing up. And if that’s not enough to motivate you, there’s plenty of evidence that links strong cores to a lowered risk for back injuries, improved sex life, and good posture. So this time, we’re diving into everything core-related and showing you a few ways you can strengthen yours.
What is the Core?
Harvard Health defines the core as “a group of muscles that stabilizes and controls the pelvis and spine.” This is the reason a strong lower body helps stabilize the core. In turn, the core influences the legs and the upper body. For athletes, a strong core promotes efficient, compact strides; fluid, explosive movement; and fast changes of pace and direction. A strong core can even prevent injuries, because it facilitates ease of movement and eases the load off both the upper and lower extremities.
To clarify, the core is not limited to the abdominal muscles. Instead, it’s comprised of the muscles that envelope your torso, hips, and pelvis. They run obliquely from the spine and all the way to the front of the body. These muscles make up the deepest muscle layer of the center of the human body, and the muscles of the upper and lower limbs are attached to this layer. Core muscles are categorized as either stabilizers or movers, with the former responsible for stability and balance and the latter for movement.
The core, in other words, is the link that connects the upper and lower body, and this means every movement either originates in the core or moves through it. Every move ripples either upward or downward, from and through the core. If it is weak or inflexible, your ability to perform various movements is severely compromised.
A Strong Core in Athletes
To illustrate the importance of a strong core, look no further than professional athletes. Tennis star Novak Djokovic’s rehab, bridging the 2017 and 2018 seasons, featured lots of core strengthening exercises, and not coincidentally, “The Djoker” delivered one of his finest seasons last year.
Meanwhile, basketball superstar LeBron James is known for his killer — and often innovative — core workouts, which help him move gracefully, efficiently, and explosively across the court. LeBron James is one of the world’s highest-paid athletes and is regarded by many as second only to Michael Jordan as the greatest of all time. That distinction is no accident, as James has always stayed true to his demanding training routines that frequently include core strengtheners, like balancing on a physio ball while carrying kettlebells (more on this later). Other world-class athletes, like Tiger Woods, Mike Trout, and Deontay Wilder, are no different.
Not Just for Athletes
Athletes are not the only ones who need a strong core, however. While most of us won’t ever have 6, 8, or 12-packs, it’s important to remember that a strong core is crucial for fluid, efficient movement of the body. And that alone should be incentive enough for you to work on yours. That being said, the following core exercises are highly recommended:
The front plank primarily targets the erector spinae, the rectus abdominis (aka abs), and transverse abdominis. Here, you simply assume the push-up position, with your forearms holding you up rather than your palms. Keep your body straight, tighten your abdominal muscles and maintain that position for 15 seconds, resting for 30 and repeating 4 to 5 times.
Video Credit: YouTube DrOz
The oblique abdominal muscles — among them, the transversus abdominis, the gluteus medius and minimus (abductors), and the adductors of the hip — are often overlooked, but are targeted by the side plank. Here, you will hold your body on your side in a straight position, with your forearm and the side of one foot supporting you. As a general rule do 3 sets of 30 seconds or 10 reps.
YouTube – Children’s Hospital Colorado
The bridge mainly targets the rectus abdominis, erector spinae, adductors, and hip flexors. To do this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and both feet on the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles and raise your hips off the floor so that they are aligned with your knees and shoulders in a straight line. It’s best to start with 10 reps on each and work up to 3 sets.
Video Credit: YouTube – MyTraining App
This exercise utilizes all of the core’s muscle groups. To perform this exercise, lie flat on your back, with your arms extended overhead, close to your ears. Lift up both your legs and upper back simultaneously, squeezing your thighs, glutes, and abs. Reach your hands forward so that they meet your feet. Your body at this point will form a V. Go back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times, 3 to 4 sets and make sure you keep your core engaged all throughout.
Video Credit: YouTube – mahalodotcom
LeBron’s balancing act
This core exercise is something LeBron performs regularly. He kneels on a physio ball and balances himself, all while moving a Body Blade or balancing kettlebells. You can do it the same way or alternatively, you can perform a less challenging but still beneficial version. Stand on one leg and do arm circles or swing your body from side to side. You can even hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend it forward, then sideways. This exercise stabilizes the entire core and will allow you to keep your balance even in unstable environments.
Video Credit: YouTube – GWIAZDY BASKETU
As with any exercise, proper form is crucial for core exercises. So, take the time to learn each one first so that you can do it correctly. Once you can do that, perform the suggested exercises regularly. You’ll be well on your way to reaping the rewards of a strong core and a stronger you.