Having a strong core means more than simply having defined abs. In fact, training your core will improve your day-to-day life, the functionality of your most basic movements, and how your body reacts when you do even the simple things like sitting at your computer or on the sofa, according to Tracy Bray, a personal trainer and the certified nutrition specialist behind Leany Greeny. "It cannot be overstated just how important your core is to everything you do," says Bray. "Yet many people don't give it the attention that it needs when training."
You've got to think outside the six-pack. According to Bray, functional core training consists of hitting your abdominals, obliques, spinal erectors, traps, gluteal muscles and rhomboids. "So when someone's routine only consists of hitting their abs in various forms like sit-ups and crunches, they are only hitting a very small portion of what is actually their core," she says. "And the worst part is, many of these exercises which only focus on improving the aesthetics of the core don't really translate into any functional movements that people make in their day-to-day life." That being said, your abs will still indirectly benefit when you do movements that benefit your entire core. We asked Bray for some help identifying a weak core as well as her go-to moves. Here's what she had to say.
Signs of a Weak Core
"If a weak core is negatively impacting your life, there are some easy telltale signs to look for," she says. "Let's take a look at the most common ways a weak core makes itself known in your day-to-day life."
Poor Posture: Whether you simply have slouched shoulders or an inability to sit up straight for periods of time, posture is heavily influenced by how strong your core is.
Back Pain: When parts of your core are lagging behind or are lacking strength, your back will overcompensate leading to pain, usually most found in the lower back.
Overall Weakness: If you feel like you aren't reaching your potential during big compound movements or bodyweight exercises, then your core could be at fault. Remember, every exercise eventually ties back to the core in some way so it could very well be a limiting factor if you haven't been giving it the attention it deserves.
Fatigue: Whether you run into shortness of breath from time to time or simply run into problems when it comes to prolonged exercise, a weak core can play into you fatiguing earlier than you otherwise would during exercise or even throughout a normal day.
Three Moves to
Strengthen Your Core
If you're suffering from one or more of the issues mentioned above, it's important to start addressing the various parts of your core. "Anyone can tack on simple ab exercises at the end of their workout and call it a day," she says. "But the real benefits of engaging your core comes from doing exercises that matter."
The deadlift is a great way to engage your entire core, but it's important to note that it alone shouldn't be your only way to work it. When you do deadlifts, it's really important to have proper form—especially since you can move much more weight with it compared to other exercises.
First, stand with your feet under the barbell and proceed to bend over and grab the bar with about a shoulder-width grip. You'll want to bend your knees until your shins are just about touching the bar before you lift your chest up, at which point you'll straighten your lower back. At this point, you breathe in and stand up with the weight. Sound complicated? That's because it is—the deadlift is a very nuanced movement and it's best to practice light until you really feel that you have it down completely.
There are many variations of the plank, from the side plank to the one-arm plank and more. Let's talk about the good old-fashioned regular plank.
To do it, it's really quite simple: plant your hands directly under your shoulders while grounding your toes into the floor and squeezing your glutes. Keep your head looking down at the floor and keep your body straight.
The most common mistakes here are arching your back, lowering your hips, and not keeping one's head in a neutral position (such as looking up). If you're able to avoid these mistakes and regularly incorporate planks into your workouts, you'll definitely benefit. They increase core stability, work your entire core (and really, your entire body; but especially your glutes and hamstrings), and can help with posture.
There are nearly infinite ways to go about planking, from sets of 20-30 seconds to increasingly longer planks where you may hold them for a few minutes.
The Pike Rollout
While we discussed in detail how your core is much more than your abs, you don't want to avoid hitting your abs altogether as they do contribute to total functionality as well. So let's talk about one exercise that doesn't get a lot of attention while being just as effective (if not more) than any other exercise targeting the abs specifically.
The pike rollout targets every bit of your abs and obliques. To start, you'll need an exercise ball. Then, get down on the floor in a plank position with your hands directly below your shoulders. Keep your core contracted and place your shins on top of the Swiss ball behind you. Keeping your legs extended, roll the ball towards you while extending your hips into the air. Contract your abs and then slowly roll the ball back out and your first rep will be complete! You'll notice your shoulders will extend over your head and the ball will roll up your thighs.
Developing your core helps you perform daily tasks with less effort and fatigue. It improves everything from bending and sitting to walking and running, along with on-the-job tasks like lifting or twisting.