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Strengthening Your CoreThe core, or center of the body, is significantly emphasized in exercise today because it is responsible for stability and balance, and thereby impacts virtually every movement.

The core consists of the abdominal muscles, the back and lower back. Technically, the hips and upper back are not considered the core, although they may assist in some core movements. The primary muscles emphasized are:

  1. Rectus abdominis – The outermost muscle, this is the washboard or 6-pack, and bends the torso forward (like in a crunch).
  2. Internal and external obliques – These two muscles run alongside the waist like sets of pockets, and they are responsible for bending the torso side-to-side (laterally) and twisting or rotating the waist.
  3. Transverse abdominis – This deep horizontal band functions like a girdle to hold in the belly and stabilize the body.
  4. Erector spinae A group of muscles on each side of the spine that controls back extension and rotation.
  5. Latissimus dorsi – A large muscle covering the back, the core includes the lower part of the lats that contributes to back extension and side bending.
  6. Quadratus lumborum – In the lower back, this muscle is instrumental in lateral flexion (side bending) and helps move and stabilize the spine and pelvis.

There are many exercises and activities that are instrumental in strengthening your core:

  1. Planks – One of the best exercises for the core, targeting the transverse abdominis with an isometric contraction, planks require you to hold up your body while gravity pulls it down.
  • Traditional plank — Get in a push-up position with your hands narrow under your shoulders and feet together or slightly apart. Pull the navel in and don’t let the belly sag or pike up the hips toward the ceiling. Hold for 10-60 seconds rest and repeat.
  • Forearm plank – This is just like a traditional plank, but support yourself on the forearms instead of your hands, with a straight line from head to heels.
  • Side plank – With the right hand down and the right knee down, extend the left arm straight up toward the ceiling and the left leg straight out. Stack the shoulders and flatten the back. Make it harder by extending the right leg as well. Repeat on the other side.
  1. Stability ball or BOSU workouts – These giant inflated balls and domes are inexpensive and facilitate a ton of exercises to work the core, including crunches, back extensions, lateral flexion, spinal rotation, bridges, reverse crunches and many more. Check online or talk to a trainer to assemble a regimen.
  2. Balance exercises – Whether performed on a wobble board, BOSU Balance Trainer or a stand-up paddleboard, balance exercises inherently target the core. Even just standing on solid ground, single leg squats, standing abductions and glute extensions strengthen your core.
  3. Kettlebell or medicine ball moves – Using a kettle bell or medicine ball adds challenge to core exercises like woodchops, Russian twists, Turkish get-ups, rotational swings, knee tucks and extensions and jackknifes.
  4. Kickboxing and martial arts – Throwing targeted punches and correctly executing different types of kicks requires an engaged core that keeps the body stable while the arms and legs move away from and back to the center.
  5. Pilates – Totally focused on the core, Pilates exercises on a mat or on apparatus such as the Reformer or Wunda Chair are precise movements that build the powerhouse to develop strength and stability.
  6. Yoga – Yoga develops strength, flexibility and balance though various poses conducted at different paces and in varied order. Some traditional yoga poses aren’t as targeted on the core as Pilates exercises, but consistently integrate the torso.

Get results with these core exercises listed above for a toned tummy and back! Stay Fueled.