Why it matters, and how to build it.

After reading this article, you'll consider your core your most important muscle group. And no, I'm not just talking about having a flat, six-pack stomach. Your core plays a critical role in spinal stability, mobility and more. That's because your core muscles are the base of support for your entire body.

Core strengthening has become an increasingly important area of focus in fitness and rehabilitation circles, primarily because the core is thought to protect the spine and prevent injury. Within our workout routines, we’ll emphasize core exercises to achieve a toned six-pack, but rarely do we consider them to improve spinal stability. Yet, the core is a major stabilizer of the body and spine during movement.

None of us like the idea of chronic back pain, so building a rock solid core should be a focus for everyone – from high level athletes to casual gym-goers.

Not only does a strong core protect the spine, it also connects the upper body to the lower body for fluid movements. In our day-to-day activities, we require multiple muscle groups to work together at the same time; our muscle groups almost never work in isolation. So, if we want our gym routines to support our day-to-day activities, it makes sense to train our bodies to perform multi-joint movements. Compound movements (i.e. squats, deadlifts, step-ups, rows, etc.) do exactly that.

Properly training our core strength also improves our balance, coordination, and body awareness in sports. Essentially, having a strong core enables us to resist scenarios that would otherwise cause us to lose our balance and fall.

For athletes, a strong core allows the body to generate more power. Whether the sport involves throwing a ball, tackling someone, lifting a heavy barbell, swinging a club or bat, or running as fast as you can; the stronger your core, the more power you will have.

A strong core also translates to what we do in our daily lives such as carrying groceries, picking up kids, cleaning the house, reaching to grab something off the top shelf, and many others. The stronger our core is, the easier these daily activities become.

So, what’s the best way to train the core?

Everyday in some way or another, most of us probably activate the muscle structures in our core, such as bending down to tie our shoes or rotating to grab a seat belt. Most people also incorporate common core exercises such as sit-ups and crunches. Unfortunately, these movements only address spinal flexion which misses the most beneficial aspects of core training – core stability.

What exercises target core stability?

There are numerous exercises to help you develop core stability, both bilaterally (both sides of the body) and unilaterally (one side of the body). Here are some of our favorites:

Dead Bug Exercise

The dead bug exercise is performed on the ground, you might want to consider using a yoga or exercise mat for comfort.

1. Lie on the mat with your arms extended straight over your chest. Bend your hips and knees 90-degrees by lifting your feet from the ground. This is the starting position

2. Engage your core, maintaining contact between your lower back and the mat. You want to make sure your spine maintains this steady and neutral position throughout the exercise.

3. Slowly reach your left arm backward over your head and toward the floor as you simultaneously extend your right knee and hip. Move slowly and steadily, breathing in as you perform the extensions, avoiding any twisting or movement of your hips and abs. Stop the movement just before your arm and leg touch the ground.

4. Perform the same movements to the opposite sides.

5. Do the same number of repetitions on each side. When you complete a full set, simply return your feet to the ground and sit up

Bird Dog Exercise

Find a spot with enough space to extend an arm and leg at the same time. Kneel on an exercise mat with your knees hip-width apart and hands firmly on the ground.

1. Point one arm out straight in front and extend the opposite leg behind you, forming a straight line from your extended hand to your extended foot. If your low back begins to sag, raise your leg only as high as you can while keeping the back straight.

2. Hold for a few seconds, then return to your hands and knees. Keep your abs engaged throughout the entire exercise and work to minimize any extra motion in your hips.

3. Switch to the other side. Aim to complete five reps on each side or 10 reps total.

Side Plank with Rotation

1. Start in a side plank position, with your right shoulder over your elbow, your body in a straight line, and reach your left hand toward the ceiling.

2. Twist your torso forward and slowly place your left arm under your body.

3. Repeat and then switch sides.

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