The Best Exercises for Core Strength

Build your core to build a better body

Abdominal exercise
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The best core exercises may surprise you. It's not enough to just do ab crunches and sit ups. To build a strong core you need to exercise a variety of muscles, from your hips to your shoulders.

Most people think of the core as a nice six-pack or toned abs. But the abs have very limited and specific action, and what experts refer to as the "core" actually consists of different muscles that run the entire length of the torso.

When these muscles contract, they stabilize the spine, pelvis, and shoulder girdle and create a solid base of support for powerful movements of your extremities. Core conditioning exercise programs need to target all these muscle groups to be effective.

What Are the Core Muscles?

Experts vary in which muscles they consider to be the core muscles. Some include the muscles of the pelvic floor. The following list includes the most commonly identified core muscles as well as the lesser known groups:

  • Rectus abdominis: Located along the front of the abdomen, this is the most well-known abdominal muscle and is often referred to as the "six-pack" due to its appearance in fit and thin individuals.
  • Erector spinae: This group of three muscles runs along your neck to your lower back.
  • Multifidus: Located under the erector spinae along the vertebral column, these muscles extend and rotate the spine.
  • External obliques: Located on the side and front of the abdomen.
  • Internal obliques: Located under the external obliques, running in the opposite direction.
  • Transverse abdominis (TVA): Located under the obliques, it is the deepest of the abdominal muscles (muscles of your waist) and wraps around your spine for protection and stability.
  • Hip flexors: Located in front of the pelvis and upper thigh. The muscles that make up the hip flexors include: psoas major, illiacus, rectus femoris, pectineus, sartorius.

Benefits of Good Core Strength

  • A Strong Core Reduces Back Pain: Abdominals get all the credit for protecting the back and the foundation of strength, but they are only a small part of what makes up the core. In fact, it is weak and unbalanced core muscles that are linked to low back pain. Weak core muscles result in a loss of the appropriate lumbar curve and a swayback posture. Stronger, balanced core muscles help maintain appropriate posture and reduce strain on the spine.
  • A Strong Core Improves Athletic Performance: Because the muscles of the trunk and torso stabilize the spine from the pelvis to the neck and shoulder, they allow the transfer of power to the arms and legs. All powerful movements originate from the center of the body out, and never from the limbs alone. Before any powerful, rapid muscle contractions can occur in the extremities, the spine must be solid and stable, and the more stable the core, the most powerful the extremities can contract.
  • A Strong Core Improves Postural Imbalances: Training the muscles of the core helps correct postural imbalances that can lead to injuries. The biggest benefit of core training is to develop functional fitness—the type of fitness that is essential to daily living and regular activities.

    Effective Core Exercise

    Rather than isolating the abs, core strengthening exercises are most effective when the torso works as a solid unit with both front and back muscles contracting at the same time. These exercises should be multi-joint movements and you should monitor the stabilization of your spine.

    Abdominal bracing is a basic technique used during core exercise training. To brace correctly, you should attempt to pull your navel back in toward your spine, recruiting the transverse abdominus muscle. You should be able to breathe evenly while bracing and no hold your breath.

    Many core strengthening exercises can be done at home with no equipment.

    Some, such as in functional training, can be done by adding stability balls and medicine balls to your regular workouts.

    What Are the Best Core Exercises?

    Core exercises are most effective when they engage multiple muscles throughout the torso that cross several joints and work together to coordinate stability. Some of the best core exercises are simple bodyweight exercises, including the following workouts and individual exercises.

    Core Workouts:

    • Quick Core Workout: If you want a simple, effect core workout, this routine doesn't take much time or equipment but covers all the basic core muscles.
    • Standing Ab Workout: You don't need to get on the floor for this workout that uses many of the best core exercises.
    • Total Core Workout: These seven exercises use a resistance band and a stability ball.
    • Yoga and Pilates also challenge your balance, flexibility, and torso strength.

    Individual Core Exercises:

    Best Equipment for a Better Core

    You can use equipment that will add an element of balance to your exercises, naturally engaging your core. The best core equipment includes:

    A Word From Verywell

    A strong, fit core helps your daily activities become easier to do and improves your performance in sports and exercise. You can incorporate core strengthening in your workouts by taking some of your ab exercises off the floor and doing them standing or on a stability ball. Don't settle for a six-pack when you can strengthen your entire core.

    Sources:

    Chiu LZF. Are Specific Spine Stabilization Exercises Necessary for Athletes? Strength and Conditioning Journal 29:1:15-17, 2007

    Hauggaard A, Persson AL. Specific spinal stabilisation exercises in patients with low back pain – a systematic review. Physical Therapy Reviews. 2007;12(3):233–248. doi:10.1179/108331907x222949.

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