In the world of health and fitness, there always seems to be a lot of talk about the need to ‘work on your core’. It is almost an obsession for some people – having a strong core seems to be the secret to unlocking success in all sorts of sports and activities, from running to yoga. But what is it, and why is it so important? And if you’re the kind of person who struggles to do two consecutive sit ups, what can you practically do to improve your own core strength? Here is our quick guide.
Core strength explained
So, first of all, what is core strength? Is there actually any more to it than just improving your ability to do a few sit ups? Well, it would appear so. Core strength is focused around three sets of muscles – your upper abdominals, your obliques (down the side of your body) and most importantly, a deep layer of muscle that helps to support your spine.
Core strength exercises focus on strengthening these sets of muscles, and it can have a remarkable and wide ranging impact on all sorts of different activities. By the way, it’s worth saying that one of the benefits is simply feeling better about how you look – core strength exercises will work wonders for flattening your stomach.
But having a strong core will also make a huge difference to your posture – and in a sport like running, where your form and technique has an enormous impact on your efficiency as a runner, this can have a transformative effect on your performance. Core strength is crucial therefore because the core muscles are connected to so many other critical parts of your body.
Core muscles are connected to your legs and to your back, and so making sure they are strong ensures that your body is able to support your spine, your legs are flexible and stable, and that when you move your weight is held not just by your bones, but by your muscles too.
Working in harmony
A great way to think about this, and the benefits of good core strength is to think of it in terms of helping all of the different sets of muscles in your body to work in harmony. If one set of muscles – or bones, or ligaments – are taking more than their fair share of strain every time you move, then this will increase your chances of injuring those parts of your body.
By strengthening your core muscles, you are in effect helping to share the burden of movement between all of the different sets of muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen, and allowing them to work in harmony. This has direct and dramatic benefits. Having improved core strength will give you a better sense of balance, and simply make you more stable on your feet.
This might not sound like much, but it is the kind of small adjustment that can make the world of difference to how you move when you exercise. So, focusing on your core strength will help you to be more efficient in your movements, extracting the maximum amount of performance without straining your body in the wrong way. Essentially, by strengthening your core you will be making it easier for you to do many different kinds of physical activity. So, how do you do it?
Some practical tips
There are plenty of different sets of core exercise routines on the web – we are big fans of this set of body weight core exercises that don’t require any gym equipment of any kind – you’re simply using your own weight to create the resistance you need to strengthen your core. The advantage of this is that you can do it anywhere, anytime.
It’s worth highlighting just a few of our favourite moves though to get you started. One the simplest ways to start strengthening your core is the classic sit up or ‘crunch’ – it’s probably what most people think of when they think of a core strengthening exercise. But we also really like another classic – the plank. If you’ve never tried it before, then lie face down on the floor with your feet together and your forearms on the ground. Pull in your stomach muscles, clench your glutes and lift your body off the ground to form a straight line from head to toe. Hold it for just 20 seconds, rest and then repeat until you’ve done three reps.
Another one to try is the V-Tuck – find yourself something soft to sit on, lie on your back and then raise your head and your legs together. Slowly sit up with your arms out straight ahead of you, until your elbows are over your knees, before gradually straightening your legs and lowering yourself back down again. If you can avoid resting your head or feet on the ground then all the better.
Once again, there are plenty of core exercises to try, but if you make time to incorporate even just a few minutes of these into your daily routine you will quickly begin to see the benefit.