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by Women's Health Updated 09/21

Core strength has become a popular buzzword around the gym, but many of us don’t understand what core strength really is. Core strength runs far deeper than a set of six-pack abs; it refers to a source of power and strength that stabilizes and supports the body from the inside out. A strong core is critical to staying strong, healthy, and active throughout life.

What Exactly is the Core?

The core is where all movement in the body originates. It refers to the area around the trunk and pelvis. The core muscles include the muscles of the abdominals, low back, pelvic floor, hips, and shoulder girdle.

For the most part, the core muscles are muscles you can’t see. For example, the rectus abdominis is the “six-pack” muscle, but the transverse abdominis, which lies beneath the rectus abdominis, is the core muscle that works—along with your erector spinae muscles—to help you stand upright.

The Importance of a Strong Core

All of our movements are powered by the torso, or the core. The core muscles work together to stabilize your trunk and allow for movement of your limbs around a stable core. The core muscles support the spine when we sit, stand, bend over, twist, exercise, and more. In other words, developing a strong core is critical for all of the ways in which we want to move our bodies—whether to ride a bike, kick a soccer ball, pick up a child, or swing a golf club.

The torso is the body’s center of power, so the stronger you are in that area, the easier all of your movements will be and the healthier you will be.

If the core muscles are weak, the body doesn’t work as efficiently and effectively. A weak core leaves you susceptible to poor posture, low back pain, and injuries. These injuries often occur because other muscles have to pick up the slack from the weak core.

Strengthening the core can prevent such injuries. In fact, most people who complain about a “bad back” would benefit from a simple core strengthening program.

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Developing Core Strength

Core strength training is often referred to as “functional training” because it focuses on working the body as a whole rather than as separate muscle groups. For example, it is rare in our daily lives to isolate a muscle the way we do in a weight room. Functional training requires us to do activities that require balance and stabilization, thereby working all of the muscles together. This translates into daily life activities.

There are countless ways to work the core. Here are a few basics to get you started:

  • Forearm Plank: Balance on the forearms and toes, holding the body in a straight line. Hold this position for 30 seconds to one minute and repeat twice.
  • Side Forearm Plank: Turn to the side and balance on one forearm and stack one foot on top of the other. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch sides. For an added challenge, extend your top arm toward the ceiling and/or lift the top leg.
  • Supine Twist: Lie on your back with your arms outstretched to the side. Raise your legs into a tabletop position so that your knees are bent to 90 degrees and your lower legs are parallel to the floor. Lower the legs to one side, then draw them back to center. Repeat 10 times on each side. This move will work your oblique muscles.
  • Quadruped: Balance on hands and knees. Extend your right arm and your left leg and hold for a count of 10. Switch, extending your left arm and right leg and hold. Repeat five times on each side.

Reap the Benefits

By spending even just a few minutes each day working your core, you’ll reap the benefits. You may notice:

  • Improved posture
  • Improved balance
  • Greater efficiency of movement
  • Increased power output
  • Reduced risk of injury

A strong core will keep you healthy and active throughout your life.