When was the last time you considered your core? Turns out, the strength and stability of those muscles located in the middle of your body can be a critical indicator of your overall health and well-being, as well as an important determinant of your functional age. In fact, core strength is a key measure of whether you are younger or older than your chronological age, based on your ability to function in everyday life.
When most people think about their core muscles, they typically just focus on their abs. Yet a strong core involves a girdle of muscles that span your upper and lower abs, your back, and your pelvis. These muscles include your:
- Erector spinae. The erector spinae is a back muscle that helps you stand up straight after bending over.
- Rectus abdominis. When you bend forward, you use an abdominal muscle called therectus abdominis. It’s known as the “six pack” muscle.
- Obliques. Your internal oblique and external oblique let you rotate or bend your trunk.
- Transverse abdominis. The transverse abdominis, which wraps around the front and sides of your trunk, stabilizes your pelvis.
- Multifidus. The multifidus in your back supports your spine.
Together, these muscles connect the four major extremities of your body, transferring energy from the upper body to the lower body and back and forth. They also help you accomplish all of the activities that you do every day.
The Benefits of a Strong Core
A strong core provides many benefits to help you stay functional no matter what your age:
- Body awareness – Becoming more self-aware of your body during your daily activities makes movement more seamless and allows you to correct movements that may otherwise lead to injury.
- Better balance – Strengthening your core can help improve balance and stability. This helps you navigate uneven terrain and can lower your risk of falling.
- Joint stability – Improving your core develops more stability in your knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders. This can prevent injuries like sprained ankles and serious knee problems.
- Agility – Core strength improves your reaction time and the ability to quickly change direction.
- Helps prevent lower back pain — Because your core supports your spine, strong abdominal muscles take the pressure off your back and help align your spine. This results in less lower back pain.
6 Moves for a Stronger Core
These exercises train your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdominal muscles to work together to improve your core strength and stability. Add them to your regular workout at least twice per week.
Plank: Lie face down on a mat with your forearms on the floor in front of you. Extend your legs behind your body and rise up on your toes. Keeping your back straight, tighten your core. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds (or as long as you can).
Dead bug: Lie on your back with your arms extended straight up towards the ceiling, and your legs raised with your knees bent at a 90° angle. Lower your right arm and left leg at the same time until they are hovering just above the floor, then return to the starting position. Then do the same with the opposite limbs.
Bicycle crunch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted hip-width apart on the floor. Place your hands behind you head, elbows pointing out to the sides. Engage your core. Lift your bended right knee toward your chest while simultaneously extending your left leg, keeping it a few inches off the floor. Lift your left shoulder and upper back, bringing your left elbow toward your right knee. Then tap your left shoulder on the floor and simultaneously switch your legs. Continue alternating elbows and knees. Gradually work up to three sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Leg Raises: Lie flat on your back with your legs extended and hands at your sides or tucked underneath your hips for extra support. Slowly raise your legs, keeping them together and as straight as possible, until the soles of your shoes are facing the ceiling. Slowly lower your legs back down. Don’t let your feet touch the floor; instead, keep them hovering a few inches above the mat. Repeat for 10 reps and work your way up to three sets.
Half Kneeling Wood Chop: Start on your knees and then step one leg a few feet in front of the other, foot flat on the floor and knee bent at 90 degrees. Hold a light dumbbell (you can also use a large can from the pantry) by the knee that’s on the floor. Grasp both ends of the weight. Bring the weight diagonally up toward the ceiling on the opposite side of your body, twisting your abs as you do. Keep your hips facing forward—only your core muscles should be rotating. Bring the weight back down to starting position. Do 10 reps on one side, and then repeat on the other side.
Walking Lunges: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart with your hands on your hips. Engage your core and take a wide step forward with your right foot. Bend both knees and lower your back knee toward the floor. Press firmly through your right heel and extend your right knee to stand as you lift your left foot from the ground. Step through with your left foot and continue moving forward with each lunge, alternating sides as you do. If needed, pause at the top of each lunge before continuing. Keeping your core engaged throughout the entire exercise, complete 15 to 20 reps.