4 Ways To Strengthen Your Core (and Why You Should)
Golfers know a stable core is necessary to power their swing. But maintaining strong abdomen, lower back and pelvic muscles also is essential for those who never set foot on a fairway.
Core muscles are responsible for our body’s stability, posture and lumbar spine alignment. These muscles make everyday tasks like standing, sitting, bending and lifting easier, while helping prevent balance-related falls.
Think of your body’s core like the foundation of a house. These muscles, located around the hips, pelvic area, back and buttocks, work to keep our trunk and spine in alignment, establishing a foundation for how we move.
A strong, functional core is essential for:
- Balance and stability
- The prevention of falls
- Good posture
- A strong, healthy back
- Performing daily activities
With a solid core, the rest of your body can work properly. Without it, aches, pains and problems can set in, especially as we get older. And if you tote a few age-related extra pounds around the mid-section, that additional weight can result in hip and back discomfort.
A Common Core Education
Most of us consider just our front abdominal muscles, called the rectus abdominis, to make up our core. But the core area actually consists of a variety of muscles that engage together to help move us through our day.
- The obliques, located on each of our sides, which help us rotate our trunk and bend sideways
- The transversus abdominis, which acts like a flat, front girdle to protect and hold our internal organs in place
- Erector spinae, which are located in the back and offer the support we need to stand up straight
- The gluteal muscles, located in the buttocks and enable us to extend our legs, walk and climb stairs
- Pelvic floor muscles, which stretch like a hammock at the base of the core and help our stability
Problems of Poor Core Strength
As we age, the muscles holding us up gradually weaken. Couple that with a sedentary lifestyle and too much time spent in front of the television or computer, and you have a recipe for mushy core muscles and increased back pain. Additionally, poor core strength makes you more vulnerable to injuring other parts of your body during exercise or activity.
Some signs your core needs strengthening are:
- Sore back
- Unstable balance
- Poor posture
- Trouble standing for extended periods
- Trouble lifting items
- Weakness doing everyday tasks
A Core Curriculum
Patients with chronic lower-back symptoms or arthritis in the spine quickly discover the importance of core strength when they are forced to engage their core during physical therapy. Strengthening the core muscles can increase your ability to function, while reducing pain.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to build strong muscles. Here are some exercises you can do at home to start tightening and toning both the superficial and deeper muscles of your core, regardless of your age.
These tighten the abdominals, arms and tush.
- Rest forearms on the floor, elbows directly underneath your shoulders, hands facing forward, legs straight, weight on the balls of your feet and forearms. Arms should be parallel.
- Keeping your body in a straight line parallel to the floor, hold this position for a count of 10 or as long as you can, increasing slightly each time.
This version of the plank focuses on the oblique muscles.
- Lie on your right side, legs straight and stacked, right forearm perpendicular to your body.
- Raise your body up, placing your weight on the right forearm and elbow, left hand on your hip.
- Lift your hips with your body forming a straight line from toes to crown of your head.
- Hold position for a count of 10 or as long as you can, increasing slightly each time.
- Repeat on the left side.
This exercise strengthens your back muscles for better upright posture and balance.
- Lay on your stomach, arms extended in front of you as if you were Superman flying.
- Tighten the tummy, raise your head and neck about two inches above the floor.
- Simultaneously, lift your right arm and left leg above the floor approximately two inches. Hold for the count of five. Lower.
- Repeat by raising the left arm and right leg. Hold for count of five.
- Repeat five times to each side to equal one set. Strive for three sets.
This exercise focuses on glute muscles, which are important for mobility, stability and strength.
- Lie on your back, knees bent, head and shoulders, hips and feet flat on the floor.
- Tighten your abdominal and glute muscles to lift the hips off the ground so they line up with the shoulders and knees.
- Hold for the slow count of five, then lower your hips.
- Repeat five times to equal one set. Increase to three sets.
Because they don’t need a lengthy recovery time, core muscles can be exercised daily. Start slowly, focusing on your form, then gradually increase the number of sets or length of the hold. As with any exercise regimen, speak with your doctor first and give them a chance to address any concerns or questions you may have.
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