The term "core" is often used in the fitness industry, and much attention seems to go toward strengthening it. Many people think of the core as their abs, but the core is actually comprised of several muscles throughout the midsection of the body.
The core musculature attaches to the spine and pelvis, including muscles of the abdominal area, mid and low back and hips. Specifically it includes muscles such as the rectus abdominis, erector spinae, external and internal obliques, transversus abdominis, trapezius and glutes.
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Your core protects your spine from excessive flexion, extension, rotation and lateral bending and works to stabilize the spine and hips during specific movements. Your core plays a major role in balanced posture and everyday mobility. If you've ever injured a core muscle, you'll quickly realize how often you use these muscles -- your body will hurt every time you move.
Since the core works nonstop to keep us functioning at our best, it makes sense to keep it strong and efficient. Is your core weak? Try the plank test to determine if your core is functioning properly. Assume a traditional pushup position. Now drop from your hands down to your forearms and hold your body rigid. How long can you hold before your hips begin to sag or your low back starts to strain? If you planked less than 60 seconds, your core could use some work.
So what's the best way to strengthen the core? Our first choice is definitely not with sit-ups or crunches. Incorporate functional exercises, so multiple muscles are working together as a unit to stabilize or carry out a specific movement. We recommend the following exercises to build overall core strength.
The plank. This exercise is great for beginners because its simplicity allows utilization of the core without much complication. Just get in the plank position and hold. Time your sets for the first workout and try to beat that time during the next workout. You can also progress by adding a weight to your hips or raising one leg off the floor.
Pushup to dumbbell row and twist. This is a great intermediate core exercise because it involves both movement and stabilization. Assume a pushup position while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Perform a pushup and as your arms straighten at the top of the movement, row one of the dumbbells toward your chest, rotate and then press the dumbbell toward the ceiling. Return to your starting point and repeat on the other side. Choose a weight that allows for 10 to 20 reps.
Walking overhead lunge. This is an advanced exercise and should only be attempted once the core is strong enough to perform efficiently. Grab a moderately weighted barbell and press it overhead. Lock your arms out and stabilize the weight in an overhead position. At this point, perform 10 walking lunges in a forward direction. Once you complete all 10, reverse your steps by lunging backward to return to your starting point. This will work the core differently than the previous two exercises and requires overall body strength and stability to perform.
So no matter what your fitness level allows, strengthen your core and teach your body to perform at its best. For more exercise and nutrition tips, visit our website at PushFitnessTraining.com for links to our Facebook and Pinterest pages.
• Joshua Steckler is the owner of Push Fitness, a personal training studio located in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning, and nutrition. Contact him at PushFitnessTraining.com.