Having a strong core is important to your overall health.1 But what does it mean to have a strong core? Most people would say it’s sporting 6-pack abs or a flat stomach. Contrary to what many men and women believe, your core is so much more than your abdominal muscles. And just because someone has an aesthetically pleasing midsection doesn’t mean that he or she has a strong core.
Read on to discover exactly what the core is, the benefits of strengthening it, and core exercises and workouts you can do from home that will help you reach your health and fitness goals.
Core ≠ Abs
For years, people have used “core” and “abs” interchangeably—but they are not the same thing. The abs are simply the abdominal muscles, which in include:
- the rectus abdominus (the top layer of muscles that create that much-desire 6-pack)
- the transverse abdominus (the deep muscles that wrap from the sides of the lower back around to the front)
- the internal and external obliques (the muscles on either side of the abdomen)
Although an important part of the core, the abs are just that—a part. According to Paul Goodman, strength and conditioning coach for the Chicago Blackhawks, “the core is a very broad scope of muscles that work in union with one another to create and stabilize movement.”2 In other words, “the core refers to the abdominal muscles, the spinal muscles (the muscles that run along the back of your trunk), the pelvic floor muscles (the muscles at the base of your trunk), and the diaphragm (the muscles at the top of your trunk),” says Karen Barbieri, founder of Pietra Fitness.
While there is nothing wrong with strengthening your abdominal muscles, the goal should always be to have a strong body. If you only focus on your abs, “your back isn’t going to be as strong, and so there’s going to be an imbalance in your body,” says celebrity trainer Anna Kaiser. “You want them to be strong together and work together, and not have one overcompensate.”3
Benefits of Core Conditioning
Conditioning your core not only improves posture, which contributes to a trimmer appearance, but also . . .
- boosts the effectiveness of workouts
- reduces the risk of injuries4
- makes it easier to perform everyday physical activities, such as retrieving an item off a high shelf, lifting a child, swinging a golf club, and bending down to tie your shoe
- leads to better balance and stability
- tones your abdominal muscles
- improves back pain5
On the other hand, weak core muscles can lead to poor posture, injury, fatigue, and lower back pain.6 To avoid these health setbacks and achieve a truly strong core, it’s important to perform exercises that work allthe muscles in the core.
9 Exercises that Strengthen the Core
Core exercises are an important part of a well-rounded fitness program,7 and they train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen to work together. But when most people train what they think is the core, they gravitate toward isolation exercises that isolate a specific muscle—such as the abdominals—in order to create hypertrophy in a desired area.8 The problem with isolation exercises is that they don’t utilize the core muscles in ways that transfer to real-life activities outside the gym. Functional training, on the other hand, puts emphasis on most, if not all, of the core muscles and is more relevant to movements you perform on a regular basis.9
Any exercise that involves your abs and back muscles in a coordinated fashion counts as a functional core exercise.10 For example, maintaining a stable trunk while doing bicep curls or overhead presses with free weights can train and strengthen your core muscles.
You can also perform specific core exercises:
- planks (forearm, straight arm, side, jacks, etc.)
- sit ups
- half backbends
- reverse crunches
- arm and leg raises
- pike pose
- stability ball pikes
- stability ball knee tucks
- stability ball push ups
When trying any of these exercises, be sure to start slow, go at your own pace, stop if you experience any pain, and breathe. It’s important to concentrate on doing the exercises correctly, not on how quickly you can do them or how many reps you can perform.
11 Workouts that Target Your Core
All Pietra Fitness classes engage your entire core, especially with dynamic postures and exercises like posture pose, swan dive, seated engaged, and arabesque. But if you’re looking for some extra core conditioning and ab exercises, incorporate one of these classes into your fitness routine each week.
Do you want to shape and tone your waist, improve your posture, and get more bang for your workout? This 52-minute core class has got you covered. With the help of a 9-inch exercise ball (or block), you will engage your inner thighs while doing crunches, work your arms and shoulders while doing squats, and fire up your obliques while doing leg lifts.
Designed to build your core muscles, improve your posture, and increase your flexibility, this 45-minute class will take you through a series of modified V-sits, kneeling back bends, planks, chest lifts, and other exercises that strengthen your abdominals and back muscles.
Get ready for bicycles, side crunches, V-sits, and other waist-cinching moves that will work your entire core. Whether you prefer Gentle, Level 1, or Level 2 classes, the exercises and poses in Lent: Core-rific can be modified to meet—or challenge—your current fitness level.
If you’re tired of the same old core workout, TOB: Abdominals is your ticket to switching it up. Yes, this 30-minute heart-pumping class incorporates some crunches and planks, but V-sits, revolved angle pose, reverse planks, open arabesque, and other unique exercises will challenge your core in new ways.
This 29-minute class isn’t just for Advent season—it’s perfect for anytime you want to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of daily life to strengthen your core. Forearm planks, side planks, push-ups, backbends, and V-sits will work your entire midsection.
Start your morning by sculpting your abs and offering your day to God with this short yet difficult class. Through a series of planks and challenging moves, you will both stretch and strengthen all the muscles in your core in just eighteen minutes.
Focus: Sides of the Body
Bend and twist your way to a stronger and more flexible midsection with this 27-minute class. As you flow between seated, kneeling, standing, prone, and supine postures you will not only safely stretch and strengthen the sides of your body but also give your wholebody an energizing workout.
8. Lent: Anthem
Focus: Balanced with an emphasis on twists
If you compare this workout to a song, plank-hover-chest lift-plank-pushup-pike would be the refrain. Even though this repeated flow engages all the muscles in your body, it will be a nice break from the unique twists and challenging sequences that make up this Level 2 class. Get ready for lunges (with twists), pike pose (with a twist), arabesque, and other tricky moves that will challenge your balance and work your entire body.
Focus: Angle Pose / Side Body
Is tightness or pain in your back preventing you from doing everyday activities? Increase your spinal mobility and get your body feeling better with the dynamic exercises and postures in TOB: Angle Pose / Side Body.
10. TOB: Twists
You don’t need to do dozens of crunches in order to tone your midsection—and TOB: Twists proves that. During this 30-minute workout, you’ll flow through exercises and postures that challenge your balance and target your upper and lower abs, obliques, and entire core.
11. Tone and Twist
Twists are great for strengthening the muscles up and down your spine, improving posture, and increasing flexibility so you can perform everyday movements with ease. Tone & Twist leads you through several series of safe and effective twists that will work and stretch your entire core while engaging other muscles in your body for stability. You will also find pushups and postures that stretch your chest, legs, and hips in this 27-minute workout.
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