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.
1 of 4
Brabham points to side planks as an ideal exercise because they’re easy to perform, require no equipment, and can be done practically anywhere. Plus, they work all the stabilizing muscles of the core, including those of the supporting shoulder. To perform the exercise correctly, lie on your side and support your body with the forearm closest to the floor. Tighten your abs and keep your body stiff as you raise your hips off the ground so your body forms a straight, diagonal line from heels to head. Brabham says to hold the position for a minimum of 10 seconds, but to maintain the static hold for as long as you can with perfect form. Complete two to five sets.
Credit: Vasily Pindyurin / Getty
2 of 4
Glute Bridge Holds
Like side planks, glute bridges can be done practically anywhere. But unlike most other core exercises, bridges target the often-neglected muscles of the posterior chain, especially the glutes and the stabilizing muscles of the back. To perform the movement correctly, simply lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor. Tighten your core and lift your hips, pressing through your heels until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold the position for at least 10 seconds, or as long as you can with perfect form. Perform two to five sets.