Whether you’re pushing a shopping cart or putting on shoes, you use your core to accomplish many daily activities. It also affects your balance, posture, and stability. Contrary to popular belief, the trunk does not only include the abdominal muscles. It also includes the back and pelvic muscles.
Your trunk includes the following:
– The erector spinae. The erector spinae is a back muscle that runs along your trunk. It helps you stand up straight after bending over, as well as lean to the side and turn your head.
– Rectus abdominis. When you lean forward, you use an abdominal muscle called the rectus abdominis. It is sometimes called the “chocolate bar” muscle.
– Obliques. The internal oblique and the external oblique help you rotate or bend your trunk.
– The transverse abdomen. The transverse abdomen, which wraps around the front and side of the trunk, stabilizes the pelvis.
– Multifidus. The multifidus located in your back supports your spine.
The other muscles that make up your core are:
– the pelvic floor
– the diaphragm
– the buttocks
– the muscles that attach to the pelvis (hamstrings, hip flexors and adductors).
Keeping these muscles strong helps stabilize your body, support your spine, and improve your overall fitness.
Below are the best core strengthening moves for all fitness levels.
Movements for beginners
If you’re new to exercise or haven’t exercised in a while, start with these beginner moves. If you can, consult a personal trainer to determine how many reps and sets to perform based on your fitness level and personal goals. Throughout these exercises, you’ll see the phrase “core tightening,” but how do you know if that’s really what you’re doing? A good way to start is to inhale, and as you do this imagine bringing your belly button towards your spine. Hold your muscles tense in this position for a few seconds. This feeling of contracted abdominal muscles corresponds to the feeling of engagement or tightening of the trunk.
This pose activates the glutes to lift the hips, which helps train the core while toning the buttocks and thighs.
1 Start on your back. Bend your knees and put your feet hip-width apart on the floor. Place your hands at the sides, palms down.
2 Contract your core and glutes.
3 Raise your hips until your knees are aligned with your shoulders.
4 Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
5 Repeat 3-5 times.
Crunches are a classic core strengthening movement. Raising your upper body works your abdominal muscles. If you suffer from occasional lower back pain, do crunches carefully, move slowly, and start with a few reps. If your back pain is chronic, consult a certified trainer before trying this classic exercise. This may not be the best solution for you.
1 Start on your back. Bend your knees and put your feet hip-width apart on the floor. Align your head and spine. Cross your arms over your chest.
2 Contract your body and relax your neck and shoulders. Tuck your chin in and lift your upper back, keeping your lower back, pelvis, and feet on the floor. Take a break.
3 Slowly lower your upper back to return to the starting position.
4 Start with a set of 8 to 12 repetitions.
Toe tapping while lying down
This is a basic Pilates exercise. It solicits the core muscles while working the glutes, hips and legs. Toe tapping puts minimal pressure on your spine. If you suffer from back pain, toe slaps can be an ideal alternative to sit-ups.
1 Start on your back. Raise your legs, knees bent at 90 degrees. Place your hands at the sides, palms down.
2 Contract your body. Lower your right foot and gently tap the floor, keeping your left leg still and your back flat.
3 Raise your right leg to return to the starting position.
4 Repeat with the left leg.
5 Start with a set of 8 to 12 reps.
This variation of a classic crunch works the obliques, rectus abdominis and hips. Start with your back on the floor, the left knee bent and brought in towards the chest. Keep your straight right leg straight and slightly lifted off the floor. Place your hands behind your neck or the lower part of your head – be careful not to tug on your neck while doing this movement.
1 With left knee bent and right leg straight, lift your right shoulder off the floor and move your right elbow toward your left knee.
2 Bringing your right shoulder down, straighten your left leg while bending your right knee and bringing it toward your chest.
3 As your right knee sinks, lift your left shoulder off the floor and move your left elbow toward your right knee.
4 Start with 3 sets of 12 alternating reps.
When you get stronger, step up a gear with these intermediate exercises.
The plank is a full-body exercise that targets the core. It also strengthens the arms, shoulders, back, glutes and legs.
1 Start on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
2 Extend your legs behind you, keeping your feet hip-width apart. Contract your trunk.
3 Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
4 Repeat 3-5 times.
To make this exercise easier, keep your knees on the ground, your weight on your hands. Keep a straight line between your knees and your shoulders.