One question I am often asked by clients is ‘how can I achieve a toned core’? For women who have given birth, or those past their 40’s who find themselves doing very little physical activity with an unhealthy diet, this seems to be a common concern. Therefore, I thought it would be timely to revisit an article I wrote last year on the core muscles, and what we should know.
Having a strong core is a foundational part of physical fitness and can even make a dramatic difference in how you perform daily activities. However, before you begin to challenge yourself to intense core exercises, it’s important to know a little more about your core. If you want a stronger midsection, below are a few things you must know.
1. Your core is more than your abs.
Think of your core as the section from your shoulders to your hips, all the way around your body and deep within your body. This includes not only your outer abdominal muscles, but also your deepest abdominal muscles, your entire back muscles, your pelvic muscles, the muscles at the side and back of your hips, your upper thighs and more. That’s a lot of muscles. If you want a stronger core, you can’t just focus on some of them.
2. A strong core is important for everyday activities.
There are so many benefits to having a strong core! Your core is where movement originates and is the source of your stability. Building core strength could improve your posture, protect you from lower back pain and make you more functionally fit to lift your toddler (especially when they become dead weight in your arms!). Think about the amazing impact a strong core can have in your daily life. Plus, you’ll probably see a difference in your workout routine, too. Whether you’re running or lifting weights, a strong core often means more powerful and controlled movements.
3. A strong core does not mean a flattened stomach.
Strengthening your core means building up your core muscles. But if you have fat around your tummy, these muscles will still be hidden by fat. If you want a flattened stomach, a well-designed nutritional and exercise program that burns fat will get you there faster than doing core exercises. On the other hand, if you are following a well-planned program, don’t be discouraged if your belly doesn’t get smaller right away. Those deep core muscles may be getting stronger even if you can’t see it.
4. A strong core does not mean you won’t have back pain.
Unfortunately, back problems are often too complex to treat even with a strong core. Building your core muscles is only one part of having a pain-free back. Things like good posture, efficient movement, good cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility all factor in to having a healthy back. Core strength may provide additional support and stability, but it isn’t a cure-all.
5. When it comes to core exercises, think quality over quantity.
Doing thousands of reps isn’t the key to building core strength. Doing a small amount of reps very well is. That means it’s more important to perform 20 repetitions that focus on perfect technique and target the right muscles than to cheat the exercise to attain a high rep. Make sure that you know and understand the proper form. Focus on doing each move correctly and if you start to lose form, take a break.
6. Building core strength requires variety.
Your core includes lots of muscles. Six-pack training only focuses on some of the superficial muscles, ignoring all of the deep muscle layers and other superficial muscles. A good core regimen includes a variety of exercises that target different core muscles. Some examples include planks, push ups, V-sits, squats, bridges, oblique twists, lunges with a twist, and supermans. Building core strength is an important part of an exercise plan. Add the right movements to target all of your muscles, practice good form and have realistic expectations of your results.