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5 Exercises to Strengthen Your Core

Even if you have very little time for structured exercise, you should try to fit in some core exercises. This article will explain what exactly the core is, why core exercise is important and provide you with 5 exercises you can do to strengthen your core.

5 Exercises to Strengthen Your Core title

What is the core?

Many people think core exercise is synonymous with abdominal exercises. Abdominal exercises are part of it, but your core actually includes quite a bit more than your abs. Your core muscles are the muscles that provide stability in other areas of fitness and in everyday activities.

The core muscles include everything from below the chest to the legs. This includes the back muscles, the abdominal muscles, the diaphragm, and the glute muscles.

Why should you exercise the core muscles?

As mentioned above if you are doing any other exercise, then core muscles are essential. They keep you stable when you walk. If you are trying to maintain a straight back when doing pushups, then core muscles are essential.

Core muscles help to maintain posture. By having the proper balance of strength and flexibility in your core muscle you will be able to stand tall your whole life.

Strong core muscles can help to ease back pain. If you have back pain, you will want to consult your physician about it to determine the cause. One of the things they may suggest is core exercise and stretching.

Strong core muscles can help to prevent injury. Because the core muscles act as stabilizing muscles they help to prevent unwanted movement and injury.

What core exercise doesn’t do - help you lose belly fat

One of the main reasons that women turn to core exercises is the hope that they will lose belly fat. Unfortunately you can’t spot reduce. Working the muscles in the core does not cause the fat to disappear.

Having a strong core may help you to do other exercises for longer without getting injured so you can lose weight and reduce the amount of belly fat.

What core exercises should you do?

There are plenty of core exercises, good and bad. I’m providing a sample of core exercises that are safe for most people and target the major muscles in the core.

Plank

The plank is considered one of the best core exercises for targeting the inner abdominal muscles which are used for stabilizing the core.

To do the plank, lie on your stomach on a mat. Place your forearms on the mat in front of you. Your elbows should be under your shoulders. Lift yourself up into the plank position and hold. Your back should be straight from your head to your heels. Don’t lift your bottom up too high and don’t let your back side. If your back starts to hurt, you should stop. Make sure to keep breathing normally.

How long should you hold it? The world record is over 4 hours. But most experts agree that less is better. You can hold for 10 seconds and repeat several times, or hold for 30 and repeat 2 or 3 times.

If you find the full plank on the floor too difficult, then go from your knees or elevate your arms on a table or bench.

 

 

Kneeling wood chopper

The kneeling wood chopper works the abdominal muscles, and obliques.

Kneel on your left knee holding the dumbbell at the left side. Keep your abs tight and drive the weight up to the right side to shoulder height. Repeat on the other side.

Start without weight if you prefer and add weight slowly. Do not attempt if you have shoulder issues or osteoporosis.

 

Clamshell

The clamshell works the gluteus medius which is a stabilizing muscle located at the top of the hips. It is one of the most under utilized muscles in the body.

Lie on your side with your knees bent at approximately 90 degrees and your feet lined up with your body. Keeping your pelvis steady, lift the top knee only as far as you can go without rotating the hips back. Repeat on the other side. Tie an exercise band around the knees to increase the difficulty.

 

Back extension

The back extension works the muscles of the lower back and is a good exercise to help prevent back pain.

Lie on your stomach with your hands at your sides. Lift your head off the mat without arching your neck. You are not attempting to lift yourself very far.

Increase the difficulty by moving your arms out to the sides in a T position or overhead.

 

Hip extension

The hip extension exercise focuses on the gluteus maximus, the big muscle in your bottom. These muscles can be weak from spending too much time sitting on them.

Lie on your stomach and rest your head on your hands. Keeping your hip bones close to the mat, lift one leg and then the other squeezing the glute muscles. This is not a big movement.
You should feel this in your bottom and not the backs of your legs (hamstring muscles). If you feel it in the hamstrings then stretch the hamstring muscles prior to doing this exercise.

For a more advanced movement combine the back extension and the hip extension. However it is good to start these separately to isolate the muscles.

 

What exercises to avoid

Remember the old fashioned sit ups with someone holding your feet down? These don’t do much for the abdominal muscles but actually work the likely already tight hip flexor muscles.

Two other exercises that are common in the exercise world should also be avoided because of the stress they can place on the spine:
V-sit with weighted twist is especially dangerous for women with osteoporosis, but generally places too much rotation on the lumbar spine.
Leg raises in a hanging position (or roman chair) are another exercise that uses mostly the hip flexor and places stress on the lower back.

In general avoid any exercise that causes lower back pain and think about where you are feeling each exercise. If it is supposed to work the abdominal muscles you should feel it there and not in the legs.

There are many different core exercises. If you haven’t been exercising your core, then these are a good place to start. If you really want to lose belly fat, then download my free guide to weight loss for menopausal women.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3806175/

http://www.thestudentphysicaltherapist.com/featured-articles/the-ups-and-downs-of-the-clamshell-exercise

https://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/a19461929/2-move-total-body-workout/

https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a19542882/truth-about-extreme-planking/

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