We often hear the word "core" in discussions about exercise or fitness, but what exactly is it? Your core is basically a complex series of interconnected muscle groups that comprise the "middle" or "trunk" of your body. While the core is commonly referred to as being synonymous with the abdominal muscles, this vital collection of muscles goes far beyond that--in fact, your core also includes your upper and lower back muscles, hip flexors, pelvic floor, diaphragm and several other deeper muscles.
Nearly all of the movements you make on a daily basis will involve your core in one way or another. Whether you're walking to the mailbox, sweeping the floor or hitting a tennis ball, your core is where most of the movement originates, and it's responsible for enhancing the overall balance and stability of your body.
What is a Strong Core?
A strong core means that your core muscles have been adequately developed to provide the necessary strength, mobility and power to the other areas of your body so that your movements will be stable and controlled. Without having a strong core, even the most basic activities of daily life (e.g., bathing, dressing, doing housework, etc.) become more difficult.
Believe it or not, the health of your core even affects how well your arms and legs function, because your core muscles generate the power and strength necessary to enable your arms and legs to carry out their movements. This is why boxers focus so heavily on core exercises during their training; they recognize that the force behind the punches they throw will originate from having a strong, stable core.
Benefits of Having a Strong Core
So why is having a strong core important? Below are just a few of the many benefits of having a healthy, strong and flexible core:
- Easier everyday movements - As mentioned earlier, having a strong core will make the basic movements of daily life much easier. Bending down to tie your shoes, carrying bags of groceries into the house, or even just standing still are just a few examples of the kinds of movements that call upon your core. A strong core will underpin your daily physical movements, and will keep you free from pain or excess difficulty when performing them.
- Strength for job-related tasks - If you work a job that requires standing, lifting, twisting or other physical movements, it's essential for you to have a strong core in order to keep your body healthy and free from injury. Even if you work an office job where you're sitting at a computer for the majority of the day, developing your core muscles will help minimize the stiffness or lower back pain that you can experience from extended hours in a desk chair.
- Reduced lower back pain - Four out of five Americans experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, but fortunately, developing your core muscles is one of the best ways to reduce or even eliminate this common problem. In fact, core exercises are often prescribed as part of a regimen to help minimize lower back pain.
- Better sports performance - Practically every sport you can think of relies upon core strength in order to provide power and movement. Professional athletes in every realm of sports regularly train their core muscles in order to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.
- Better balance - This is an often overlooked benefit of core strength, but balance is a crucial element of maintaining good physical health. This is especially true for seniors, who often suffer injuries from falling due to poor balance.
- Good posture - A strong core is a primary contributor to good posture. Without having well-developed core muscles, you will more than likely slouch, which increases physical discomfort and causes excess wear and tear on your spine over time.
Exercises That Will Strengthen Your Core
- Swimming - Swimming engages practically every muscle in your body, but the strokes you perform while swimming are heavily dependent upon your core muscles.
- Running - Yes, running is a great exercise for developing leg strength, but when performed with good form (e.g., back straight, elbows locked, arms tucked, etc.), it engages several core muscles including your abdominal wall, obliques, upper back, and hip flexors.
- Planks - This is a highly targeted core exercise that will build endurance and stamina as well as core strength. Ideally, you should be able to hold a plank for a minimum of 30 seconds, but shoot for longer time periods as you practice this exercise in your training regimen.
- Sit-ups and crunches - It's hard to leave these exercises out of any discussion regarding strengthening your core. Over time, try performing variations of basic sit-ups as well (e.g., bicycle crunches, V-ups, etc.) in order to develop even more robust core muscles.