The Importance of Core Strength | Top 14 Exercises (Beginner to Advanced)
Have you heard of core strength? What does it mean to you? As important as it is, there tends to be a lot of confusion when it comes to "core strength".
Many people associate:
- core with abs
- strength with muscle.
Therefore, core strength must mean 6-pack (abs muscles). It's completely understandable why people are confused and, to be fair, this is entirely wrong. It just doesn’t paint a complete picture.
Your core certainly includes your rectus abdominis (glamour abs) but also include your obliques, transverse abdominis, erector spinae, hip flexors, and more. In other words, your core includes more than just your “abs”. It’s not a single muscle but a network of muscles. The strength of this network will affect how well you function in daily life.
The more core strength you have, the better and easier your life becomes.
It Starts with Your Core
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’re getting into your car, pushing shopping cart, sitting, or standing. Your core is used in almost all of your movements. Can you see why having a strong core makes your day-to-day movements and activities easier?
Having adequate core strength also helps you move properly, and therefore helps you avoid injury as well. In fact, one of the most common injuries that we suffer from is lower back pain, which is typically the result of having poor core strength. Throughout our lives over three-quarters of us will have suffered, to various degrees, lower back pain that hinders our daily movements. It is typically caused by a weak or underdeveloped core and caused by strain, overexertion, or unsafe execution of basic movements such as squatting, lunging, twisting, hinging, pushing, pressing, and pulling. Here are some shocking statistics on back pain.
A strong core also protects, stabilizes, and regulates the movement of your spine. Without getting into too much detail, your spine, in combination with your brain, make up your central nervous system which controls everything that you do. Having a strong core reduces stress to your spine. Pretty important, right?
A Network of Muscles
Just as your core is a network of muscles, your body as a whole is an interconnected network of muscles. It should be no surprise that at the center of this network of muscles is… your core. Your core functions to transfer energy from your lower body to your upper body (and vice versa). The stronger your core, the more efficient it is at transferring energy (less wasted energy). The more efficient it is at transferring energy, the less your muscles need to operate in isolation (alone). And, the less your muscles need to operate in isolation, the more effective your movements are; i.e. you will use less energy overall to achieve the same result.
Exercises That Develop Core Strength
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 sit-ups is not the most effective way to get there. As a rule of thumb, good core strengthening exercises are ones that use the entire body. Full-body exercises, whether just bodyweight or with a external resistance (weights, resistance bands, etc.), require the engagement of your core muscles. This engagement is the foundation of building your core strength.
The 14 Best Core Strengthening Exercises
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.
Bird Dogs (Beginner)
Bird Dogs are a very beginner friendly exercise and are truly a foundational exercise for developing core strength. They will also tone your shoulders, legs, and glutes. Hold each side for 5 seconds.
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 adequate core strength.
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 thought 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.