Look beyond abs: 9 exercises to strengthen your core

35 muscle groups make up the central link chain that stabilizes the body

Most people think of the core as being synonymous to abs. While abs are a part of it, the core comprises much more. Made up of 35 different muscle groups that connect the pelvis, the spine and hip area, the core makes up the midsection of the body.

The core muscles act as stabilizers for the entire body and play a vital role in carrying out most everyday tasks such as lifting, scooping up packages, standing for long periods of time etc. Keeping these muscles strong can also improve posture and help give more strength during activities like walking, running and playing various sports.

What are the key muscles that make up the core?

  • The trapezius muscle connects the spine to the shoulder blades and stabilizes the upper body.
  • The latissimus dorsi, also known as lats, links the shoulder blades, upper arms, spine, and pelvis, making it a critical stabilizer for the entire body. 
  • The gluteus maximus and gluteus medius connect the pelvis and give the strength to sprint or squat.
  • The six pack or rectus abdominis and the obliques, which span the entire side of the torso, are essential for bending and twisting.
  • The transversus abdominis is a thick muscle that wraps around the torso and keeps the core tight and aligned.
  • Hip adductors attach to the inside of the pelvis and keep the body stable and aligned while walking or running.
  • The quadratus lumborum is located in the lower back on either side of the lumbar spine. This muscle is used to sit, stand, and walk.
  • Running along the spine from the glutes to the head, the spinal erectors allow a person to stand up and rotate.
The Complete Core Workout

Before starting any workout, warm up is a must to prevent injury. Start with a combination of on the spot jogs, toes touches, butt kicks and side bends to break into sweat.

Here are 9 great body-weight exercises to help strengthen your core.

1. Forearm Plank

Lie face down supporting the upper body with your forearms and elbows. Elbows should be directly under the shoulders. Lift your body off the floor and hold it parallel to the ground in a straight line and hold the position. Planks strengthen the erector spinae, rectus abdominis, and transverse abdominis muscles. 

Tip: Start by planking for 30 seconds & work your way up.

2. Side Lying Hip Abductors

Lie on the side, rest your head on your arm and bend your legs at the knees. Straighten the top leg. Lift the top leg up so that the knees are separated while keeping hips steady.  Slowly lower the leg. Switch sides after each set. The gluteus medius and gluteus minimus muscles are engaged in this workout.

Tip: Start with 3 sets of 10 repetitions and gradually increase repetitions.

 3. Crunches  

Lie on your back, bend legs and stabilise your body. Place hands behind your ears without straining the neck. Lift your head and shoulder blades form the ground then lower them back down. Crunches work the rectus abdominis muscle and also engage the external or internal oblique muscles. 
Tip: Start with 3 sets of 12 repetitions and gradually increase repetitions.

4. Leg Raises

Lie on your back with your hands on the ground by your side and legs straight. Keeping the legs straight lift them until the butt comes off the floor. Lower the legs until they are two inches above the ground then raise them again. Leg raises strengthen iliopsoas (the anterior hip flexors), ectus abdominis and the internal and external oblique muscles.

Tip: Start with 3 sets of 10 reps & gradually increase repetitions.

5. Seated Russian Twist

Sit with knees bent and back at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Keep the back straight and clasp your hands, holding the arms straight out in front. Twist the torso to the right, then to the left.  This exercise strengthens the rectus abdominis, internal oblique, and the external oblique muscles.

Tip: Start with 3 sets of 10 reps and gradually increase repetitions.

6. Hollow Hold

Lie flat on the back and contract the abs, pulling your belly button towards the floor. The arms held straight over your head and legs stretched below. Slowly raise your shoulders and legs off the ground and hold. An isometric exercise, muscles engaged include rectus abdominis, transverse abdominals and obliques.

Tip: Hold for 30 seconds and gradually extend holding time.

7. Superman Pull 

Lie face down on the floor with your arms extended in front and legs at the back. Engage the lower back, squeeze the shoulder blades and lift the chest and arms off the floor. Relax then repeat. This move targets the lower back and works the glutes, hamstrings, back muscles.

Tip: Start with 3 sets of 12 repetitions and gradually increase.

8. Bird Dog 
Kneel on the floor with hands positioned under the shoulders. Slowly extend one hand and the opposite foot and bring them back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. While performing this exercise the muscles used are the erector spinae, rectus abdominis, and glutes.

Tip: Start with 3 sets of 10 repetitions and gradually increase repetitions.

    9. Hip Bridge

Lie on the back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift hips towards the ceiling forming a bridge. Release your hips and lower the pelvis 2 inches from the floor. Then repeat. This exercise works the rectus abdominus, erector spinae, hamstrings and adductors.

Tip: Start with 3 sets of 12 repetitions and gradually increase repetitions.

A strong core is important for everyone, irrespective of age. Often the dependence on core is only realised when simple tasks become difficult or painful. Thus, core strengthening exercises need to be performed on a regular basis to experience the benefits.


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