A quick guide to increasing core strength

Strengthening your core muscles can have a great impact on your overall physical health. From your posture to your weightlifting capabilities to even your day to day functioning, a stronger core can improve everything. On the flipside, a weakened core can lead to back pain, injuries, and other complications.

Understanding your core

Generally, your torso is considered your core, and all functional movements depend on this part of your body. In other words, your belly, and mid and lower back make up your core. The major core muscles are transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, pelvic floor, multifidus, external/internal oblique, erector spinae (spinal erectors), and the diaphragm. Also, there are some minor core muscles including the trapezius, gluteus maximus, and the latissimus dorsi.

The purpose of your core

While your core stabilizes your body and maintains its posture, its key function is to protect your spine during movement. In fact, all the muscles in your core work in tandem with the lumbar pelvic hip complex to support and protect your spine. This protection is important to prevent your spine from any unnatural rotation, flexion or extension.

Two quick tips for a stronger core

Two simple things can greatly improve your balance and help strengthen your core muscles.  Firstly, consider using balance discs inside and outside of the gym. These amazing exercise tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes, most often featuring an inflatable cushion on which to sit or stand to practice balancing. Use them in your work chair to improve your posture or during workouts for challenging and stabilizing your core.

The second tip is to engage your core no matter if you’re sitting, walking or exercising.  To practice controlling your core, lie down on your back and try to pull your belly button inwards. You will also need to tuck in your pelvis gently and fire your glutes.  To know if you are doing it right, gently push your fingers into the sides of your pelvis, right in front of the hip bone; you should feel muscles popping out.

Five stages of core strengthening

The progression of core training can be divided into five stages: spine organization, proper posture, cores stability, core strength, and power development.

The first two stages pretty much overlap where you want to organize your spine and have a posture that doesn’t compromise your back neutrality. For a stronger core, these two are the basic building blocks.

The next step is to improve your core stability, which means that your core muscles should stay stable during movements.  This can lead to a greater level of strength and a healthier back. The final two stages involve adding external resistance and exercises to increase the core strength further.

Top Three Exercises for a Stronger Core

1. Best core workout for beginners – Planks

Also known as abdominal bridge, front hold, and hover, planks are one of the most popular core strength exercises. It might seem easy but can be pretty hard for beginners. It’s an isometric core strength exercise that works your abdominals, back, and shoulders.

To do standard planks, your starting position is the same as if you’re going to do a push-up, but instead of pressing up from your palms, rest your upper body on your forearms and elbows. The goal is to maintain this position for as long as possible. It has several, more intense variations such as extension planks, side planks, extended planks, reverse planks, and mountain climber planks.

2. Best intermediate exercise for core strength – Half-knee stability chop

Kneel down next to a cable crossover machine with one foot flat on the floor and the other knee on the ground; both knees bent at about 90 degrees. Adjust the rope attachment about two feet higher than your shoulders. Using an overhand grip, pull the rope down using your torso while engaging your core and squeezing your glutes. Stop when you go past your opposite hip, hold for one to two seconds, and return to the starting position. Repeat ten times with each arm.

Make sure to maintain a slight bend in the active elbow, keep your spine in a neutral position, and avoid rotating your hips. More intense variations of this workout include standing split rotational chop, kneeling stability reverse chop, and kneeling rotational reverse chop.

3. Advanced workout for core strength – Toes to bar

This exercise needs a strong core, powerful grip, great hip flexibility and overall body strength. In other words, only very few people will be able to do it – and most won’t be able to do even one rep. Using an overhand grip, grab a pull-up bar and let your body hang loose. While engaging your core and contracting your abs, slowly lift your feet until your toes reach the bar. Lower your legs back to the starting position, going as slow as you can. Repeat until failure.