Carving washboard abs to rival Chris Hemsworth or David Beckham is certainly one reason to work your core, but it’s far from the most important reason. “The Harvard Medical School suggests thinking of the core muscles as the ‘sturdy central link in a chain connecting your upper and lower body,’” says Dr. Brian Brabham, Associate Professor of Exercise Science at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor who’s also a certified strength coach.
Brabham goes on to explain that “the core” doesn’t refer to just the six pack muscles, or rectus abdominis, of the abs — it also includes the stabilizing muscles of the back, the obliques, and the muscles surrounding the pelvis. “A common mistake made by many people new to core training is that they just address the abdominal muscles. They may do hundreds of situps, but they neglect these other vital areas.”
The downside to this unbalanced approach to core training is that it can hinder performance in all areas of life, whether you’re walking up a set of stairs or playing a game of pick-up basketball. “Having a strong core can help with posture, breathing, balance, and overall stability,” Brabham says. “For those more athletically inclined, core stability exercises have the ability to improve sports-related performance in areas such as speed and agility, while reducing injury risk and assisting with rehabilitation if an athlete becomes injured.”
The takeaway? Your core training routine shouldn’t be limited to a couple sets of sit-ups at the end of your workout. It should be well-balanced and designed to hit all the muscles spanning between your pelvis and your shoulders. If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, you don’t want your core to be the chink in your chain. Brabham suggests using the following exercises as a way to solidify a strong and balanced core.