Everybody should have good core strength, because without it you are less likely to achieve your exercise goals and more likely to pick up injuries.
The good news is that you can benefit from the work of researchers, trainers and athletes who have spent many years developing excellent ways of building core strength.
What is core strength?
Your core muscles include the muscles in the abdomen, back and pelvis, and when they are strong you will find it much easier to do many physical activities.
Different people will need different approaches to core strength, whether you are an athlete looking for a slight edge in performance or a novice trying to get started on a new exercise regime.
When to do core strength exercises
The key to understanding core strength is realising that just about every exercise you do requires it. This means that you need to be careful about when you plan to do exercises which target your core muscles.
Do your dedicated core exercises at the end of a workout, because you run the risk of suffering an injury if you have tired core muscles when doing other exercises.
Types of core exercises
You can train your core muscles in a number of ways, and the ones that work for you will depend on what you need and what you enjoy doing.
Pilates is one of the best known fitness systems and it places great emphasis on core strength through using body weight exercises.
Yoga is a similar approach, but it involves more elements of mindfulness, mental discipline and relaxation. A lot of people enjoy this, and it has some great upsides in terms of mental health.
You can also simply add individual exercises at the end of your existing routines, drawing on some of the aspects of Pilates, yoga and other approaches.
Most core exercises can be placed into one of two major groups: static and dynamic. The static exercises involve working your muscles without moving, by holding a certain position for a set time period, then resting. In contrast, dynamic exercises require you to move to work the muscles.
Static exercises, also known as isometric exercises, are an excellent way to build core strength.
One good example is the plank. To perform a simple plank you lie on your stomach, then rise up so you support your upper body with your fore arms and your lower body on your toes. Your body should be in a straight line, so your core muscles are supporting you.
You can then repeat this position and rest in patterns which best suit your needs. You can develop this basic approach into a number of variations to work slightly different parts of your core or to make the exercise more challenging.
Other static exercises include the bridge, dip hold and the banana. The latter is a great name for an exercise, and involves lying on your back, squeezing your tummy in then raising your straightened legs and arms off the ground for a set period and then resting and repeating.
Dynamic exercises are those where you move to work the muscles. You should always take care with these exercises and check with a personal trainer to ensure your technique is correct.
Crunches are a superb abdominal exercise, and if you do them well can quickly improve your core strength. You can also introduce different positions, or equipment like a Swiss ball, to work different parts of your abs.
Rollouts are another effective exercise, using a barbell on the floor in front of you with weight plate on each end. You kneel in front of the bar and hold it with both hands about shoulder-width apart. Tighten your tummy muscles, then slowly roll the barbell ahead of you until you are almost parallel to the floor, then roll backwards to the starting position.
One exercise to avoid is sit-ups, which most personal trainers will recommend that you avoid because they can cause back injuries.
The beauty of core strength is that you can develop it without any special equipment by doing things like crunches and planks.
However, some simple and cheap pieces of equipment can dramatically expand your options.
A Swiss ball is a large, soft inflated ball which you can sit on or use to add new position options for crunches and planks.
A soft exercise mat can come in handy, just because they provide a non-slip, comfortable surface on which to work out at home. It’s not much fun lying or sitting on a hard wooden or concrete floor, and you don’t want to be slipping when you try to hold a plank position.
A set of light weights enables you to increase the resistance for exercises like crunches, and you can also buy cheap but durable ab wheels which let you do roll outs without a barbell.
Overall, core strength is a key part of your physical health even if you aren’t very active. You are less likely to suffer back and neck pain if you have a strong core, and it only takes a little effort to get good results.