If there’s one thing we know about fitness, it’s this:
Your core strength is critical for effective, efficient, and safe movement both inside and outside the gym.
Of course, not only does your core need to be strong, but it needs to have endurance and stamina, as well. These qualities allow your trunk muscles to protect your lower back, help you maintain your balance, and provide you with a stable base from which your limbs can move more safely and efficiently.
But here’s the problem:
Many typical core workouts either overemphasize your abdominals, impose a lot of strain on the lower back, or fail to help you learn how to effectively engage your trunk muscles.
Fortunately, you use your core far more often than you may realize.
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Surprisingly Core-Intensive Exercises
Between your paraspinals, lats, obliques, abdominals, and even your deep hip flexors, you’ve got dozens of muscles and connective tissues working together to maintain a healthy trunk. Your central nervous system activates all of them during any functional movement, but especially during exercises such as:
– Overhead pressing (e.g., with dumbbells or a barbell)
– Push-ups and plank holds
– Single leg balance activities
– Sprinting and running
If you aren’t properly activating your core during these movements, you won’t perform as well and may even sustain an injury. So, to ramp up core engagement, try an abdominal brace. To do it, simply tighten your abs as if you are preparing for a punch in the gut (or, pardon the potty language, as if you’re straining to defecate). Do not suck in your gut, as this disrupts your core’s ability to stabilize and protect your lower back.
You don’t necessarily have to hold this brace during your entire workout, of course, but it’s a good conscious exercise to come back to repeatedly, since overtime it will train you to use your core more effectively.
Effective Ways to Engage & Activate Your Core
There are too many core exercises to count, but if you’re looking for a specific way to strengthen and activate your abs and trunk without having to do a single crunch, check out some of these tips below:
Lie on the floor with your feet flat and your knees bent. Use your core to press the small of your lower back into the ground.
Lie on your back in a “pencil” position. Engage your core and lift your arms and legs a few inches off the ground. Try to maintain a pelvic tilt throughout.
The flip side of a hollow hold. Lie face down the floor in a “pencil” position. Chin should be tucked toward your chest to protect your neck. Engage your core and lift your arms and legs a few inches off the ground.
Got any other favorite core strengthening moves? Let us know about it in the comments below!