Practical Benefits of Strengthening Your Core
Developing bulging biceps, a six-pack, and buff pecs is a popular weightlifting goal. However, visibly bulking up isn’t the most important aspect of strength training. In fact, the Mayo Clinic says that everyone – even those of us who don’t care about showing off an impressive physique – should perform some strengthening exercises on a regular basis to maintain a healthy weight, build strong bones, guard our joints from injury, and develop more stamina. One of the best areas of your body to strengthen for functional reasons is your core, which is a large group of torso muscles that connect your upper and lower body.
Limitations of Ab-Specific Workouts
Training your muscles in isolation leads to an imbalance in strength, which could impair your body’s performance and place undue strain on other muscles in your body. This is why you shouldn’t focus all of your strength training efforts on getting that six-pack without trying to strengthen your back and hips as well. While exercises such as crunches target your abs specifically, many core-strengthening exercises also happen to tone your abs.
The muscles in your core are engaged much of the time. According to Harvard Health Publications, many motions either begin in your core or move through your core. If your core is weak and rigid from a lack of exercise, your movements are less powerful and your legs and arms may become impaired as well. On the other hand, with a strong and flexible core, your muscles work more harmoniously with one another and your body will be more stable while performing everyday activities. When your core is strong and agile, you are less likely to have trouble carrying bags of groceries, lifting packages, bathing, twisting, sitting at your work desk, and cleaning around the house. You will also be more efficient at rigorous physical activities such as tennis, swimming, and rowing. Notably, you are less likely to have poor posture and experience low back pain if your core is built up.
Bridges are simple yet effective core-strengthening exercises. To try a bridge, lie with your back on the floor. Place your arms palm-down by your sides and bend your knees upright with the soles of your feet still touching the ground. Observe your body to be sure that your hips aren’t tilted and that your back is neutral. Now, keeping your hips in alignment with your shoulders and knees, lift them towards the ceiling until your thighs and torso make a flat, diagonal-looking bridge. Your glutes, abs, and back should naturally tighten during the process. Aim to hold this position for at least 30 seconds, but lower your body and take a rest as soon as fatigue compromises your form.
Planks sound simple in theory, but in practice they give your core a serious workout. To do a plank, get down on the floor as if you were preparing to do a set of push-ups. Point your fingers forward, keep your elbow and shoulders aligned, and avoid arching or dipping your back. Now, bring your body down to rest your weight on your forearms, but pull your forearms into a sturdy triangular base by lacing your fingers together. Keep your gaze directed down at your hands to avoid arching your neck and back into an awkward position. Your body should resemble a straight plank of wood that is at a slight slant. Only your hands, forearms, and toes should be touching any surface. Hold this position for as long as you can, but eventually work your way up to at least 60 seconds. Lower your body and rest if your midsection starts to droop or if fatigue is compromising your posture in any other way.