Your core comprises the muscles of your trunk and pelvis, which include the abdominal muscles, the oblique muscles, the muscles in your pelvic area such as your hip-flexors, and the muscles of your lower and upper back. A feeble core makes you vulnerable to injury, pain in the lower back, poor balance and posture. Hence, as is evident, core strengthening exercises are vital for the overall conditioning of your body. Following are the benefits of core strengthening exercises:
- Provides protection for your back due to the bracing effect of strengthening the core muscles
- Provides core stability because of your trunk becoming stronger
- Stabilizes your center of gravity
- Improves your posture, balance and shape
- Improves your performance during exercise and sports activities
- Makes you less susceptible to back pain and injuries
8 Exercises to Strengthen Your Core
So, how do you go about strengthening your core? Well, here are a few core strength training exercises that will help you to do just that:
1. Crunches: Lie down flat on the floor with your knees bent and your hands either behind your head or crossed on top of your chest. First take a few deep breaths, then, contracting your abdominal muscles, lift your head and shoulders up, bringing your chest towards your raised thighs. Lower your head and shoulders back slowly to the floor. Repeat 10-15 times.
2. Reverse Crunches: Lie flat on your back, your hands behind your head. Lift both your legs up, bending your knees so that the lower portion of your legs are parallel to the floor. Now, contracting your abdominal muscles, lift your pelvis off the floor, bringing your knees towards your chest. Then, without relaxing the contraction in your abs, lower feet to the floor. Repeat 5-8 times. Then relax by straightening your body out. You can repeat another set or two. Remember to keep breathing during the exercise, and not allow your back to arch.
3. Ball Crunches: The exercise ball is one of the best tools for performing core strength exercises. Lie on the ball, with your lower back resting on it, with your hands behind your head and your feet resting on the floor. Contracting your abs, curl your upper body towards your hips. Return to the previous position. Repeat 5-8 times. The tricky part is keeping the ball stable while doing this exercise. This is what strengthens your core muscles.
4. Oblique Cross-over Crunches: Lie flat on your back, with your right hand behind your head, and your left hand stretched out on the floor for support. Your right knee should be bent, with the foot on the floor. Put your left foot on the right knee. Now lift the upper part of your body off the floor, twisting toward the left, crunching your right elbow and shoulder in the direction of your left knee. Return to the starting position and repeat this 5-8 times. Then switch sides.
5. Air Bicycling: Lie on your back, with your hands behind your head, and your knees bent with your feet flat on the floor. Lift the upper part of your body, while straightening out your right leg and bringing your left knee towards your chin, while simultaneously taking your right elbow towards your bent left knee. Then, switch sides. All these actions should be performed in a smooth, seamless fashion. Continue to alternate sides as if you are bicycling in the air. Do this 8-12 times.
6. Plank: This exercise works the entire core muscles, including your upper and lower body. Lie down flat, facing the floor. Now bending your elbows, and placing your forearms and palms flat on the floor, lift your whole body off the floor, so that you are resting only your forearms and toes. Maintain this position, tightening your core muscles, for about 30 seconds.
7. Back Extensions with Balls: Lie on the exercise ball, facing downwards, and positioning it beneath your hips, your toes resting on the floor. Now lift your torso up, extending your hands on either side, until your body straightens out. Take care to align your body so that your head, shoulders, neck, and the rest of your back are in a straight plane. Return to the starting position and repeat. Do this 8-10 times, being careful not to hyperextend your back.
8. Butt Lifts: Lie down fat on your back, with your hands resting on the floor, palms down, on either side. Bend your knees, putting your feet flat on the floor. Now, squeezing your gluteal muscles and your lower abs, lift your hips off the floor. Return to the starting position. Repeat 8-12 times. You could add weights on your hips to add to the intensity. A great exercise to tone both your back and abdominal muscles.
For optimum results, do your core strengthening exercises three times in a week. Since the position of the body and its alignment are vital aspects of core exercises, it is advisable to get professional help from a fitness trainer, especially if you are a beginner.