Aside from having a toned chiseled abdomen that would make Marky Mark jealous, there are many benefits linked to good core strength.
Having a strong core helps reduce back pain (especially lower back pain), improves athletic performance, and helps repair postural imbalances. As the core consists of all the muscles in the torso ranging from the shoulders down to the pelvis, these muscles are imperative in stabilizing the spine while supporting the explosive movements often performed by athletes in dynamic sports.
Because body movement begins with the tensing of the core region, it is important to understand that this region is the foundation of all functional movement. Strengthening the core muscles can be done by utilizing a variety of exercises.
Here are three of the best exercises proven to strengthen the core:
The plank is a basic exercise that requires nothing but your body and the will to strengthen your core. This isometric core strengthening exercise focuses on strengthening the abdominal, back, and shoulder muscles. Since there are many variations of the plank ranging from side planks to medicine and stability ball planks, start with the basic plank and as you progress and strengthen your core, gradually try to perform more advance variations.
To begin, assume a pushup position then lower your body by resting your forearms on the ground with your weight distributed between your toes and forearms. Your shoulders should line up directly over your elbows forming an L-shape with your arms. The key to this exercise is to keep your body straight without slumping your hips towards the ground or raising your backside in the air.
Flex your core and abdominal muscles as you hold this static position. You should feel the tense burning sensation in your lower back and abs. If you are out of shape or have had previous injuries and being on your toes is too strenuous, start on your knees. Perform this exercise for three sets of 1-minute reps. Gradually increase the time until you can hold a 3-minute plank.
The V-Sit is a great exercise to strengthen your core. After I hurt my lower back while grappling, this is the exercise my orthopedic recommend I do to help strengthen my core without being too strenuous on my injured body. I can testify to the effectiveness of this exercise and thoroughly believe it is a vital component in helping to reduce lower back pain. This exercise, along with the plank, should be done and easily accomplished before trying the next exercise.
To begin, start on the ground in a seated position with your legs straight out. Raise your legs up to a 45-degree angle while trying to reach for your toes. If you notice your back will be slightly tilted backwards in a 45-degree angle and paired with the angle of your legs, from the side it looks as if your body is forming the letter “V”. Hold this “V” position as long as you can then slowly return back to the seated position. Repeat this entire movement several times and focus on using your contracted core muscles to hold the “V” position. As your core becomes stronger, you will be able to hold this position for a longer duration.
The Dragon Flag:
This advanced core strengthening exercise can be attributed to martial arts master Bruce Lee. Because it is so demanding on the body, the dragon flag should only be performed by advanced fitness enthusiasts and people with a great deal of overall body strength. Requiring controlled eccentric movement; this exercise builds muscle much more quickly than isolated core strengthening exercises. The dragon flag engages so many muscles at the same time that it is no surprise that Bruce Lee used this exercise in his physical training. Remember, this exercise is extremely advanced so before attempting the dragon flag, make sure you have worked your way up to advance core strengthening exercises.
To begin, find a hard surface such as the ground or a workout bench. Assume the proper position by using your hands to grasp an anchored object, keeping your arms locked in a fixed position. If lying on the ground, grab an immovable object overhead. If lying on a workout bench, grab the sides of the bench right above your head. Keeping your body in a straight rigid position, contract your core muscles and lift your body up off of the hard surface, whether it is a bench or the ground.
Although similar to a leg lift but considered a body lift, remember not to bend at the hips and make sure your body is straight and rigid. Once you have reached the peak with your feet directly above your head and all your weight placed on your upper shoulders, slowly lower your body until it is hovering a few inches over the hard surface. Repeat this exercise and focus on quality not quantity.