What is Core?

Dictionary meaning of the Core – The most essential part of anything.

Similarly in the human body also a strong core is most essential and the importance of core strength cannot be undermined.

In a body, core is defined as a set of muscles, the main constituents of which are

  • Transverse Abdominis – Deepest ab muscles
  • Diaphragm – Muscles which assist in breathing
  • Multifidus – Back muscles along the spine
  • Pelvic floor – Helps prevent urine flow
  • Internal & External Obliques

For a layman the core includes

  • Muscles that stabilize the hips
  • Set of muscles that make up the torso – the front, sides and back of the body
  • Muscles that stabilize the shoulders.

Why is core strength important?

What is core strength important in your body, for lifelong participation in physical activity?  It is the most crucial muscle group in your body for any kind of physical activity. A strong core muscle group supports your entire body. 

They connect the upper part of your body with lower and help transfer forces from one to other. These are very crucial to any movement in your body.  All physical activity depends on strong and stable core muscles, be it swinging or picking, stretching or bending. You do need a strong core muscle group for all.

One of the best things you can do is, strengthen your core muscles as far as the fitness of your body is concerned. There are tons of ways to work on building a strong core. Strong core muscles include your abs, obliques, and lower back muscles as well.

To strengthen all these, there are various forms of core exercises. However, the best core exercises are those that work on more than one part of your abdominal muscles.

Benefits of Strengthening the Core

Physical Activity

Normal Day to day activities are done easily and without any extra pressure on any muscle group.  Your strong core muscles play a very important role in running also. All the bending, twisting associated with housework will be possible only with a strong core.

Strong Lower Back

Makes it easier to pick up, stretch or twist without any injury.  You are able to even sit, get-up and walk faster with a stronger lower back.

Sports activities

Sports activities can be performed with ease.  Your standing, walking, running every physical activity is dependent on your core.  Your endurance, stamina and speed all increase with its strength.  Runners who concentrate on a strong core end up increasing their running speed.

Good posture

Importance of your core strength in improving the posture cannot be undermined. Your whole personality depends on your posture which in turn is dependent on your core muscles. 

If the core isn't strong you will not be able to stand for long and keep shifting your pressure from one leg to other while standing. Similarly, while sitting too you will keep changing your sitting position.  Not only that this will put pressure on other muscle groups leading to injuries, wrong sitting or standing posture and resulting in tiredness and fatigue.

Body Stability

Your body stability is on your core muscles which in turn saves you from falls and hits while walking and running especially when growing old.  It keeps the body stable and balanced and gives you a better posture and a stronger backbone. It really is the centre of all your movement.

Better Fitness

A Strong core results in better control over other muscle groups and better balance with in the body on all muscles leading to better fitness. A weak core can injure the spine and lead to injuries in shoulders, hips or knees.  Weak core muscles can lead to injuries, more fatigue, less endurance, immobility, lower back pain and poor posture.

What are the best home core exercises?

One does not even need any equipment for core exercises. You can do bodyweight exercises at home that are amazing at strengthening all of these important muscles in your midsection.

Even when you do core exercises that recruit more of one muscle than the others you'll notice that you still have to engage your entire midsection to do them right, which is proof that these muscles are never working completely alone.

Anything that’s balance-related is working on core stabilization.  Moves that isolate one side at a time, throwing off your centre of gravity, work your core because you need to brace your midsection to avoid toppling over. Core stabilization requires strength.

Other types of unexpected movements that engage your core include: jumping because your body has to brace itself against the impact when you land, anything that's done in a plank position, and compound exercises like squats that engage multiple muscle groups at once.

As you get older, your core strength becomes even more critical to stopping pain and maintaining your performance, not just in sports and activities that you love, but in every area of your life.

Caution – Before you do any of these core exercises make sure you have done your warm-up properly.  If you feel the tension in your lower back and during any of these exercises, stop and reset, making sure your abs are really engaged and that your back is not arched. You can also try starting with fewer reps. If you still feel discomfort, skip that exercise and try a different one. 

Plank is a core workout to strengthen your Abs.

Fit woman abs
  • They improve your posture
  • Help get rid of back pain
  • Your movements are better coordinated
  • Improve your body flexibility
  • They help improve your metabolism

Plank variations: 

Forward Planks

Place your hands under your shoulders, approximately shoulder-width apart. Press your body up with the toes and balls of your feet on the mat and support your weight. Plank for 15 to 30 seconds initially and increase gradually over a period of time. 

Side planks

Lie down on your side with your legs straight.  Raise yourself up on your right forearm, keeping the body straight – like a diagonal line going from your head to feet.  Your hips and knees should be elevated off the ground.  Rest your left hand on the mat if you need to stabilize yourself.

Reverse planks

Sit with your legs straight. Put your hands on the mat below your shoulders.  Push your body upwards.  Ensure your body maintains a straight line

There are various other extensions of these planks.

Leg Lowering

Lie on the mat on your back and raise your legs perpendicular to the floor.  Slowly lower one leg while keeping the other one perpendicular.  Get it close to the mat without touching it. Return it to its position and slowly lower the other leg.  Both the legs should be straight.

Bridges

Lie on your back on the mat with hands at your sides. Bring the feet up near your butt.  Press your hips up till your body weight is balanced between hips and upper back.  Perform bridges in repetitions first and then hold a stationary position.

Bird Dogs

Kneel with your hands positioned under your shoulders.  Slowly raise and lower one hand and the opposite leg, then bringing them back to your starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.

Crunches

Lie on your back and bend your knees. Keep the feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head without interlacing your fingers. Pull your abdominals inwards.  Lift your head, neck and shoulder blades off the floor. Hold for a few seconds and then go back down.

Reverse Crunches:

Lie flat and keep your hands behind your head. Bring your knees inwards creating a 90-degree angle. Start pulling your legs towards your chest. Now crunch your abs. Hold for a few seconds and then go back to the original position.

Crunch Twist:

Keep your knees flat and bend them. Bring your elbow near the opposite knee the moment you are about to do your first crunch. Hold for a few seconds and then go back to your normal position. Try to alternate between left and right sides.

Bicycle Crunch:

Lie on the mat and keeping your back against the ground lift one leg and bend it towards the stomach. Replace the leg that is parallel to the ground and perform a bicycle-like motion movement. One rep is only counted when both your left and right leg has come up to your stomach.

Long Arm Crunch:

Lie down and keep your knees bent.  Place your hands behind your head and interlace your fingers. Lift the upper part of your body along with your hands and hold for about two seconds. Go back slowly to the initial position.

There are various core exercises of which I have mentioned only a few here.  However, you can start with these and later on add their variations to your daily routine. The best way is to do each of these core exercises for 30 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.

Start with a single round all workouts and keep increasing as you get used to workouts.  Subsequently, increase the time for each to 45 seconds and the number of rounds to three.  But do not go by the book in this case. 

You have to be careful while attempting any new exercise and consider your body first.  If there are any pains in the body please take advice from a doctor. 

In building up body strength the Importance of Core cannot be overemphasised. But consistency in the effort is equally important.  Unless one is consistent the results are difficult to come.