If you want to have strength from a functional standpoint, you need a strong core. Your core is a large group of muscles, 29 in total, located smack dab in the center of your body. The power generated for most of the movements you do comes from your core. You often hear the core referred to as a “powerhouse.” Now you know why.
You not only use your core muscles when you lift weights – you tap into their strength and power when you do everyday tasks like cleaning the house and doing yard work. Core muscles come into play when you lift, turn, twist, pick something up, bend or reach overhead – just about everything you do. In other words, your core is central to everything. How much core strength do you have? Here are some signs your core muscles need strengthening.
You Can’t Hold a Plank Very Long
Planks and all their variations are good core strengthening exercise. Your ability to hold one is also a “test” of how strong your core muscles are. Try this. Grab a timer and drop into a plank position on your elbows. Set the timer and hold the plank for as long as you can. Shut off the timer once your hips start to sag. How long were you able to hold a standard plank position with good form? If you held it for 90 seconds or more, you’re exceptional. More than 60 seconds, your core muscles are in good shape. If you weren’t able to hold a plank position for at least 30 seconds, your core muscles need work.
You Suffer from Low Back Pain
Weak core muscles and back pain are directly linked. In fact, one of the treatments for the lower back is core strengthening exercises. Don’t forget your core muscles are more than just your abs. They include all the muscles in your trunk and spine. When all of these muscles are strong in a balanced manner, you’re more resistant to back pain and back injury. If you experience frequent back tightness and pain and you don’t have a more serious problem like spinal stenosis or a herniated disc, weak core muscles are part of the problem. Research in people already suffering from back pain shows core exercises decrease pain and improve functionality.
Something else to keep in mind – sitting for long periods of time, especially when you sit in an ergonomically unfriendly manner increases your risk for back pain. Core strengthening helps offset some of this risk. If you have back pain, see a medical professional for a diagnosis and work on strengthening your core under their guidance. If you don’t already have low back pain, core strengthening will help prevent it.
You Have Poor Posture
If you have weak core muscles or some muscles in your core are weaker than others, it can throw your posture out of alignment. Ever notice how some people slouch when they stand or sit? That’s partially because their core muscles aren’t as strong as they need to be. Doing exercises that strengthen all the muscles in your core will help improve your posture, make you look slimmer, taller and more confident. Focus on tightening your core muscles when you do other weight training exercises. Who says you can’t get multiple benefits from a single exercise?
When you sit or stand, consciously pull in your abs and hold keep your spine as straight as possible, as if a string is pulling your head towards the ceiling. Another benefit – it’s said good posture can make you look as much as ten pounds lighter. You can even do some core strengthening when you’re driving your car. When you’re sitting in your car seat, pull your navel into towards your spine, squeeze and hold for as long as you can.
You Have Poor Balance
How are core muscles and balance related? Your core muscles stabilize your body when you move over uneven terrain and when you make sudden movements like turning or twisting. Not sure how good your balance is? Set a timer. Close your eyes and lift one foot off the floor. Try to balance as long as you can with your eyes closed. Repeat with the opposite leg. If you can’t hold the position for at least 10 seconds, your balance and core could use work.
Start by strengthening your core muscles and incorporate more “balance challenges” into your workouts. For example, do weight training exercises on an unstable surface like a Bosu trainer or hold one leg up when you do exercises like biceps curls or overhead presses. Lunges are also a good exercise to sharpen your balance skills.
Correcting Weak Core Muscles
You can do lots of abdominal crunches and still have a weak core. That’s because crunches only target your abdominal muscles. Instead include a variety of core-strengthening exercises such as planks and plank variations, supermans, back extensions, planks on a Swiss ball, mountain climbers, etc. Most people devote too much time training their abs and too little targeting the other muscles in their core region. Make sure your training is balanced.
The Bottom Line?
Hopefully, your core muscles are strong and you only need to continue to maintain their strength. If you fell short on the plank test, make sure you’re working your core muscles at least 3 days a week.
Harvard Health Publications. “The real-world benefits of strengthening your core” (2012)
Stack.com. “How Strong is Your Core?” (2012)
Harvard Health Publications. “Build your core muscles for a healthier, more active future” (2012)
Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. 2007; 19:763-773.
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