Whether you’re hitting a tennis ball, lifting weights, mopping the floor, or bending down to tie your shoes, your body movements either originate in your core or move through it. Core muscles are the central link in the chain connecting your upper and lower body, and no matter where a body motion starts, it ripples up and down to adjoining links of the chain. A weak core puts extra stress on the rest of the body and can impair how your arms and legs function, while a sturdy core builds strength, balance, and flexibility.

Where is your core?

Your core is much more than your ab muscles. It includes all the muscles that attach to your spine and pelvis, basically the area between your diaphragm to your gluteal muscles and pelvic floor muscles. So, while having a 6-pack (also known as the rectus abdominus muscles) does help stabilize the spine, there are a number of other muscles that encompass the core.

Power Up Your Core

When you power up your core, it impacts virtually everything you do – both in the gym and at home. It can also alleviate back pain, improve posture and balance, prevent injuries, reduce the risk of falling, and enhance your overall performance in sports activities. The best core-strengthening exercises include:

  • Planks
  • Side Planks
  • Crunches
  • Bridges
  • Lunges
  • Alternating bicep curls
  • Squats
  • Bicycle ab crunches
  • Leg lifts
  • L-twists
  • Dumbbell side bends

It’s critical to start slow and take time to progress your core exercises. Start by engaging deep muscle groups to stabilize your spine before moving on to high reps of crunches or sit ups, particularly if you are prone to back or leg injuries. For example, when initially performing core exercises draw your belly button in toward your spine and don’t allow your stomach to protrude.

Building a strong, flexible core is not only an important aspect of sports performance and training, but as the bridge that connects the body’s upper and lower extremities, it is critical for overall fitness and functioning.

Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center

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