The term 'core' refers to a complex series of muscles that extends beyond abs and includes almost everything besides arms and legs. As the name suggests, it is core because it is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body.
Why strengthen core muscles?
Core exercises are imperative to strengthened body balance and stability. Core exercises train the muscles in the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work harmoniously leading to better balance and stability during daily activities or on the playing field.
Importance of a strong core
Core strength is deeper than a six-pack abs, as it refers to a source of power and strength that stabilizes and supports the body from inside out. A strong core is critical to staying strong, healthy and active throughout life.
All our movements are powered by the core. The core muscles work together to stabilize your trunk and allow for movement of limbs around a stable core. The core muscles support the spine while sitting, standing, or bending over, twisting, exercising and more. Strong core muscles are critical for all the ways in which we want to move our bodies.
While the core of the body is the center of power, the stronger the area, the easier and healthier all your movements will be. Your body becomes weak, if the core muscles do not work efficiently and effectively. It can leave you susceptible to poor posture, low back pain and injuries. These injuries occur because other muscles have to pick up the slack from the weak core.
When some women may experience recurrent back or pelvic pain, it means instability and even pelvic floor problems. If core muscles are injured or weakened, they usually need to be retained with exercise to teach them how to work and train them to become stronger.
Core stability exercises can help to reduce back pain, improve pelvic stability, and reduce the likelihood of repeated back and pelvic injury. Long term chronic pain and pelvic instability can develop post injury, pregnancy and child birth.
Strengthening core muscles
It is strong core muscles that make it easier to do many physical activities. Such core strengthening exercises can be done on a carpeted floor or mat. Core strengthening exercises focus on tightening the deepest abdominal muscle. It is important to breathe deeply and freely during each core strength exercise.
Tightening core muscles
Keeping core muscles engaged during all workouts is key to tightening core muscles. To perform exercises properly, breathing while contracting muscles and releasing them is essential.
Core tightening exercises
These are simple and engage all core abdominal muscles making them an excellent exercise for tightening core.
Get in push-up position; raise your feet to about shoulder height, balancing them on an exercise ball, or a stool. Keep arms flexed just slightly, not locked, and hold that position with your core muscles engaged for a minute.
When starting out, it will be good to aim for 2-3 sets, holding about a minute for each time, but if that is too hard, holding for at least 30 seconds or as long as you can should do.
For those who revel in challenges, take the assistance of a spotter to balance a manageable amount of weight machine on the back of your legs.
Lie on one side and brace your elbow. Put one leg on top of the other and pull your other arm out of the way. Tighten abs, lifting hips off the floor. All along, hold your back straight, forming a triangle with the floor. Hold on 30 to 60 seconds and then repeat.
Start in a push up position and engage core muscles with a straight back. In one swift motion, jump forward into squatting position with your feet and stand up. Again drop back into squat and kick legs back out into push up position. This should be done as quickly as possible, but comfortably.
This can be done in three sets of 15 burpees for each set. Jumping burpees can be challenging or it can be done holding hand weights.
Start in push up position with core muscles engaged with back very straight. With one leg, take a big step bringing your foot up toward your waist, then alternating, kicking your other foot forward as you bring the first foot back. This has to be done quickly but comfortably. Try to hold this position and do mountain climbing for about 30 seconds and try to do three sets, if possible.
A variety of leg lift exercises can be done to strengthen all core muscles.
Lie flat on your back with your hands under your butt and keeping feet together, raising them about six inches off the ground. Raise them to about 45 degrees angle and then lower them to six inches above the ground again. Try to do as many as possible in 30 seconds and repeat thrice.
Bicycles can be done by putting your hands behind your head as if you were going to do crunch. Sit up with back straight, a few inches off the ground, raise one leg at a time, bringing your knee up and twisting that side of your body towards it. Keep back straight.
Push up walkouts
Get on to the floor in a push up position and place hands a little wider than shoulders. Feet should be kept in place, and then walk slowly with your hands. Try to go as far as possible, and try ten times, if you can.
Sit down with legs extended out in front of you and feet turned out in a V position. Point your toes and contract your core muscles and roll your spine into a C-curve. Lift arms up and move them as if you were climbing a rope twisting slightly with each reach. Do at least 20 reaches with each arm.
Even if you can do only fewer crunches, it is important to do them properly. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Put your hands behind your head, or cross your chest. Keeping your back and neck very straight, sit up by engaging your abdominal muscles. Raise yourself to about 45 degrees, and then lower yourself but not all the way back to the ground. Repeat.
For beginners, a couple sets of 30 crunches is recommended. Do them slowly keeping muscles engaged all the time. Crunches should be difficult, not something that can be done at once.
Go to the free weights at the gym. Squatting down in front of the bar, grip it firmly in your hands, should width apart. Stand up, engaging your core muscles and keeping your back very straight. Squat back down slowly, putting the bar back on the ground. Do not bend your back, but keep it straight.
While most can manage a fair amount of weight with this exercise, do not push it. Instead, use an amount of weight that will be challenging for 10 -15 repeats.
As this strengthens your lower back, it is usually a good idea to wear a weight belt for this. Make sure to use proper form and keep your back very straight. Use a spotter to help you hold your form properly.
Many gyms have sledge hammers, with a big tire or any other surface for you to swing them into. Grab the hammer firmly with both hands, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees flexed, and back straight.
From one side swing the hammer up and over your shoulder, swinging it down and towards your side, striking the tire or pad. Control the hammer as it bounces, and then strike from the other side towards your first side, repeating 10-15 times on each set. Try at least three sets. Be careful that the hammer does not hit you in the face while bouncing back. It's not just swinging, but controlling the hammer after you hit it.
In case, your gym does not have a big hammer, then you can still do this exercise with basic hand weights. Grip it like you would a hammer with both hands, and follow the rules.
Use a hefty rope for core exercises, and attach it to the wall on one end, with a few different heavy braided strands to grab on the other.
To work out on the core, grab the end of the rope in about half-squat position, with core engaged and your back straight. Swing your pelvis forward, driving your arms up to swing your end of the rope high. And then bring it back down. Stay in a half squat position, keeping your core engaged through the exercise. Repeat the exercise for 30 seconds, and try three sets.
As some rope can be a lot heavier than others, it is better to get a feel for it before grabbing it on and starting to swing away.
This is somewhat similar to rope swings with the action here pretty much the same, but you will have to grip a kettle bell firmly with both hands, and swing it up from between your legs to chest-height, rather than up over your head. Do 14-20 repeats, three sets.
Lie back on the ground in a basic crunch position and hold a moderately heavy barbell with both hands. Extend your arms straight out in front of you and sit up keeping back very straight at a 45 degree angle to the ground. With core muscles engaged, twist 90 degrees to one side, keeping your arms straight. Then twist to the other side. Try to do as many as you can in 30 seconds, going slowly. Try to do three sets.
Over a high bar, you can hold yourself up in the air as if you were going to do a pull-up. Lift your legs instead, and make a right angle with your legs, bringing your knees up to your waist and keeping them straight. Try three sets of 15 of these.
Keeping core strengthened
Keeping your core strong is not something that is going to happen in a workout or two. If you want strong tight abdominal muscles and a flat stomach, it requires consistent exercise and healthy eating. To make it easier on yourself, find an exercise routine that is comfortable and enjoyable at once.
Focus should be on calorie-burning exercises to emphasize core strength. If you are working hard, you just do not want to feel but also see results. The focus should be on burning calories and shedding fat around the mid-section, to make sure the hard work shows.
Add 30-40 minute cardio workouts to exercise routine per week, to help trim fat; do core exercises in rapid succession, with 15-30 second breaks in between for rapid-training workout.
The focus should be on all round fitness. Tightening core requires total health, not just strong abs and back muscles.
Alternate your core training with aerobic workout routines, or with yoga, Pilates or spin class.
One cannot train with a bad diet and therefore eat more of wholegrains, lean protein, and vitamin rich vegetables. Those doing light core-tightening workouts can intake slow digesting carbs, like oat meal or sweet potato. Having a snack about 15 minutes after you finish your workout to help repair glycogen stores and build muscles is recommended. Make it something healthy; say a handful of roasted almonds, yogurt, or fresh fruit or a protein-shake.
Alcohol, especially beer, can go straight to the gut. In case of an occasional drink, cut back a little if you want a tighter core. While drinking, focus on clear low-calorie drinks and avoid sugary mixes.
Stay hydrated, avoid stress as far as possible and let your body recover after workouts. You need to allow your muscles to recover, to give them a chance to grow.