The Importance of Core Strength | Top 14 Exercises (Beginner to Advanced)
What is core strength?
What is the difference between a strong core vs. a weak core?
As important as it is, there is still a lot of confusion about what "core strength" is.
Many people associate:
- core with abs
- strength with muscle.
Therefore, core strength must mean 6-pack (abs muscles). I understand the confusion and to be fair, this isn't entirely wrong. It just doesn’t paint a complete picture.
Your core certainly includes your abs (rectus abdominis), but there's much more than that. Your core includes muscles like obliques, transverse abdominis, erector spinae, hip flexors, and more. I won't go into detail here. What's important is that you realize that your core includes more than just your “abs”.
Your core isn't a single muscle but a network of muscles. And, the strength of this network of muscles will affect how well you function in daily life.
The more core strength you have, the better and easier your life becomes.
Why Core Strength Matters
From the moment you get out of bed in the morning to the moment you get back into bed at night, you use your core thousands of times. Your core is used when you get into your car, push a shopping cart, sit into a chair, or come to stand. Your core is used in all of your movements.
So, can you see why having a strong core makes your life easier?
Core strength helps you move properly and helps you avoid injury as well. In fact, one of the most common injuries is lower back pain which is usually caused by having a weak or underdeveloped core. It can also be caused by strain, overexertion, or unsafe execution of basic movements such as squatting, lunging, twisting, hinging, pushing, pressing, and pulling.
It's so common that 75% of us will have suffered, to various degrees, lower back pain that hinders our daily movements.
Here are some shocking statistics on back pain.
A strong core protects, stabilizes, and regulates the movement of your spine. Without going into too much detail, your spine, in combination with your brain, makes up your central nervous system which controls everything you do.
Having a strong core reduces stress to your spine. Pretty important, right?
How Core Strength Makes Life Easier
I've already mentioned above that your core is a network of muscles.
Well, your body as a whole is also an interconnected network of muscles. And, it should be to no surprise that at the center of this network of muscles is… your core.
When your core functions optimally, it transfers energy from your lower body to your upper body (and vice versa). The stronger your core, the more efficient it'll be at making that transfer (less wasted energy). The more efficient it is at making that transfer, the less your muscles need to operate in isolation (work alone). And, the less your muscles need to operate in isolation, the more effective your movements are; i.e. you will use less energy to achieve the same result.
Core Strengthening Exercises for Women (and Men)
Let’s not beat the topic to death. You get the point that core strength is very important.
It’s also important to know that doing thousands of crunches isn't an effective way to strengthen your core.
But, if not crunches, what exercises should you be doing if you want to build core strength?
As a rule of thumb, the best exercises to strengthen your core are ones that use the entire body. Full-body exercises, whether using just bodyweight or external resistance (weights, resistance bands, etc.), require the engagement of your core muscles.
This engagement is the foundation of building core strength.
And, with that said, here are the 14 best core strengthening exercises, listed from beginner to advanced. We demonstrate the exercises on the Evolution, but you can use your bodyweight or any form of resistance.
The 14 Best Core Strengthening Exercises
Bird Dogs (Beginner)
Bird Dogs are a very beginner-friendly exercise and are foundational for developing core strength. They will also tone your shoulders, legs, and glutes. Hold each side for 5 seconds.
Alternating Side Planks (Beginner)
Alternating Side Planks are a great exercise for developing oblique (side core) strength. They will also tone your shoulders and legs. If you find it challenging from your hands, drop down to your elbow and don’t alternate sides; just hold for 30 seconds per side. You can also stagger your legs instead of stacking them on top of one another.
Supermans are a very effective exercise for building low back strength. Contrary to common belief, your core is more than just your “abs”. Your low back is a large component of your core and strengthening it is an important part of developing core strength. You can do them with or without resistance.
Woodchops are a fantastic choice for building core strength, particularly your obliques. To perform Woodchops requires a rotation of the core which is controlled by your obliques. As a bonus, you’ll also strengthen your shoulders.
Plank and Side Crunches (Beginner-Intermediate)
Plank and Side crunches are a great exercise for developing overall core strength with extra emphasis on your obliques (sides). They will also tone your shoulders. If you find it challenging from your hands, drop down to your elbow.
Squats are a great exercise for overall strength. Yes, squats are a lower body dominant exercise, but to keep your upper body straight (aligned) as you move through your squats requires engagement of your abs and lower back, key muscles in your core.
Russian Twists (Beginner-Intermediate)
Russian Twists are a great exercise for developing oblique (side core) strength. If you find it difficult to find balance, you can modify the exercise by placing your feet on the ground.
Push-Ups are a great exercise for developing overall core strength. They will also strengthen your shoulders, chest, and triceps. Although they’re often considered to be just an upper body exercise, because you are required to engage your entire body to stay aligned (straight) from head to toe, push-ups are a great full-body exercise.
V-Sits Crunches (Intermediate)
V-Sits Crunches are an extremely effective exercise for building core strength. It’s not for the feint of heart though. Luckily, there are variations. If you are struggling with balance, place your hands on the ground behind you.
Mountain Climbers (Intermediate)
Mountain Climbers are one of the most efficient and effective exercises. Not only will they develop overall strength, they will challenge your endurance as well. To maintain form, drive your knees toward your chest, and keep your hips for sagging, your core must be fully engaged.
Knee Raises (Intermediate-Advanced)
Knee Raises are an effective exercise which challenges your entire upper body. Not only do they develop core strength, they also tone your shoulders and arms.
Hinges (Intermediate – Advanced)
Hinges are a fantastic exercise for developing posterior (back side) strength. This includes your low back, hamstrings, and glutes. Core strength is often confused to be just abs strength, but your low back is a very important part of your core.
Side Plank Crunches (Intermediate – Advanced)
Side Plank Crunches are a great exercise for developing overall core strength and stability with an extra emphasis on your obliques (sides). They will also tone your shoulders. If you find it challenging to find balance, you can modify by dropping your knee to the ground (see here for a demonstation).
Skate Lunges (Advanced)
Skate Lunges are an amazing exercise for developing stability. In that stability, you really develop core strength. As an added bonus, the intensity of the exercise make it great for working on your cardio as well.
The exercises above are demonstrated on an Evolution Training System. You can do these exercises without an Evolution but they are certainly more effective with one. To learn more about the Evolution, click here. To see all of the core strengthening exercises along with all of the other exercises you can do on an Evolution, check out the exercise library.