The five best ways to strengthen your core

The five best ways to strengthen your core

One of main fitness goals people have from my experience (apart from wanting to lose weight), is to strengthen their core.

Now when I say core, I don’t mean just the tummy or abs. The core composes of as many as 35 different muscles groups connecting into the pelvis, from the spine and hip area.

I like to think of the core as the powerhouse of your body. It consists of the rectus abdominals (your six pack), internal and external obliques (think of those as your love handles, the muscles that run down the side of your body), your transverse abdominals (which are the deepest internal muscles that wrap around your sides and spine) the erector spinae (the muscles in your lower back) as well as your hip and pelvic floor muscles.

So if you want to avoid pain and injuries, improve your performance, increase longevity, and improve your quality of life, you want a strong core. Read my top five tips to strengthen this very important area of your body.

1. Planks

Sit ups and crunches are all well and good (especially for those tummy muscles), but nothing will carve out your core like planks. Thirty seconds of a hover is worth 60 seconds of normal crunches.

The reason planks are so effective is that your core muscles work a lot harder in the plank position than they do during isolated exercises such as crunches or oblique twists.

Planks are also great for building strength endurance, which is important because of how the postural muscles of our core work. They don’t work in short hard bursts, where they hold you up for a short time and then collapse, they work consistently during a lot of our daily activities – so endurance is key.

There are so many different variations of planks and hovers so you will never be bored. But like with any exercise, great posture and technique is the key with keeping the focus on the right muscles.

2. Pilates and Yoga

If you’re looking to really focus on core strength and balance, Yoga and Pilates are both ideal programs to participate in. Given that many of the poses in yoga and exercises in Pilates involve supporting your body weight, they also work various muscles all over your body.

If you’re new to these activities, don’t be surprised if you wake up the day after a workout with aches in your lower belly, as well as your lower and upper back. Those are your core muscles waving hello and thanking you for spending some time strengthening them.

3. Sit less

Human beings are meant to move – that’s why we have legs. However the vast majority of people I train sit at a desk for most of the day which often leads to issues with the hip plus a sore lower back. So make sure you get up every 30 minutes, take phone calls standing up and go talk to people face to face rather than just sending emails.

They aren’t for everyone but consider using a stability or balance ball for some of the day. Sitting on an unstable surface, requires engagement of your core — your abdominal, lower back and pelvic muscles. And engaging your core helps it grow stronger which should improve posture and lessen back issues.

4. Almost all exercises

No matter what training you are doing, from swimming, running, sports, cycling, weight lifting, mind and body classes and aerobics, you should always think about your core.

So before you move, lift, push or pull, imagine that you are bracing yourself for a sucker-punch right to your stomach. You’re not going to suck in your stomach – you’re going to take a deep breath and tighten all of your abdominal muscles. It may be helpful to picture “zipping up” your abs—bringing your navel up and towards your spine.

Get into this habit whenever you are training, that way your training will be safe and more effective. You will then will find having an engaged core will carry over to all your day to day activities in life.

5. Perfect posture

A strong core is one of the main ways to give you perfect posture.

Sitting or standing with proper alignment improves blood flow, helps keep your nerves and blood vessels healthy, and supports your muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Correct posture will reduce back pain, fewer tension headaches, gives you more energy, reduces tension in your neck and shoulders, improves your breathing, circulation and even digestion.

Like when exercising, always think of your posture starting from the middle, sitting tall, keep the back straight up, shoulders in the back pockets with eyes straight ahead. Whether you are standing up, sitting or lying down, great posture plays the most important role with good posture. Plus perfect posture makes you look slimmer, taller and more confident.