Did you know that core strength is so much more than having a chiseled six-pack? Sure, those abs popping out will look great when you are at the beach, but that is only part of what makes up a strong core. Well, it’s true, and if you would like to learn how to increase core strength, I encourage you to keep reading.
Core strength is something that I have struggled with throughout my life. I have always been fit and in pretty good shape, and you can even see a bit of my abs, you know if the stars are aligned and the light hits me just right. All kidding aside, I am in pretty good shape for a middle-aged dude with back problems.
Yes, I suffer from back problems, and one of the reasons is that I have pretty much always neglected working out my core. I used to think working my core muscles meant doing an insane amount of sit-ups, and man is that boring.
In the past when I have tried to work my core, I realized how weak I was in that area, and basically just decided to quit. Oh, I still worked out the rest of my body, but never focused on core training because it is boring, or so I thought.
Don’t get me wrong, when you are doing squats, deadlifts, or other movements, you do involve your core muscles, but I never spent much time specifically focusing on strengthening my midsection.
What are your core muscles?
In a nutshell, the muscles that make up your core are a collection of muscles that stabilize, protect and help move your spine. I like to think of core muscles as the area from your armpits to the bottom of your butt, and everything in between. Of course, this is just to give you a good idea of what we are talking about.
Why is core strength important?
Core muscles stabilize and protect your spine from excessive movements, like flexion (bending forward), extension (bending backward) and twisting.
When you do just about anything during the day, from putting on your shoes, lifting a load of laundry, or getting Christmas decorations out of the attic, you are engaging your core muscles.
Other activities that require the use of core muscles:
- Mowing the lawn
- Unloading groceries from the trunk of your car
- Picking up your kids
- Riding a skateboard
All of these activities require your core muscles. I don’t know about you, but I tend to do a lot of these things, although my wife wishes I would do more of them DOH!
Who can benefit from a stronger core?
As you can see from the list above, anyone can benefit from a stronger core. If you are an athlete, someone who works out frequently, or doing stuff around the house, increasing core strength can help out. Doing task around the house, or training for a mud run, lots of folks can benefit from improving core strength.
Merely standing up or going for a walk engages your core muscles. If you are sitting or lying down, then your body uses that chair, or couch as support. So, just to drive that point home, we use core muscles throughout the day.
How to increase core strength
To make your core stronger, doing some exercises to build up the muscles that support the spine is what you will need to do. This is where the rubber meets the road for a lot of people, actually doing the exercise.
Core strength helps you maintain balance, and I have learned recently some exercises that are more fun to do and that work on functional movement. These useful exercises are a great way to keep me engaged and helps to prevent boredom!
The great thing about these exercises to increase core strength is that you can do them anywhere, anytime. You don’t have to have a gym membership to get some good core work in.
I love my newfound friend renegade rows. These are no joke, and I just love the off-balance nature that really makes me focus on not falling over when I do them. You can see my post here for more information, but I will give you the short version now.
You start off in the top of a pushup position, keeping your back straight and your core muscles tight, arms and legs about shoulder-width apart. You can perform renegade rows with or without weights. If you have never done these before, it’s harder than it looks, or than you may think. I would recommend starting with no weights.
The goal is to end up supporting your body with two feet and one arm on the ground. You can start out on either side and again I encourage you to start with no weight, just to get the feel of it. From the pushup position, lift one arm up toward your armpit, as if performing a row.
Then repeat on the other side. You can do as many as you want, try 10-15 for starters. You can add either a dumbbell or kettlebell for extra resistance as you need it. This is an excellent off-balance exercise that will help with stability.
Another all-time favorite of mine is lunges. You can read more about lunges here. Again, an exercise you can do anywhere, even if you are on a beach vacation.
Lunges are great for the lower body, but also make you engage other muscle groups to help you with stability and balance, as you can fall over if you let yourself.
I love lunges because they work my butt, hamstrings, lower back, and quads. It’s a great overall core exercise. There are a lot of variations you can add as well, and I discuss some of those in my post as well. You can do lunges with or without weight. You can do lunges while walking, or you can do them standing in one place.
Most people are probably familiar with planks, there was a craze a few years ago and people where planking in public all over the world.
This is a great, and in my opinion better, alternative to crunches or situps. Start on your elbows, with your arms flat on the ground in front of you. Your legs will be fully extended, and you will support yourself with your tiptoes.
Keep your back straight and flat and don’t let your tummy sag. You will hold this position as you engage your midsection. I also feel this in my shoulders, butt, hamstrings and pretty much everywhere. If you are new to planks, hold for 15-20 seconds until you get used to it. You can add more time and reps as you progress.
A classic and one of my favorite exercises, pushups are a great bodyweight exercise that works a lot of different muscles. You can really work upper body and core muscles with pushups. You can do them anywhere and do as many as you want.
There are a lot of variations of pushups also, so the possibilities are endless.
Conclusion: How to increase core strength
These are some of my favorite exercises for improving core strength. Of course, there are multitudes of other exercises you can do, but these are pretty basic, and you can do them anywhere.
I have been focusing more on core and full body exercises, what a lot of people are calling “functional” training. Whatever you want to call it, for a guy with back problems, this is what I am doing these days.
These exercises help me with stability and balance. Through doing exercises like renegade rows, I realize I am weaker on the right side of my body than the left. This makes sense to me, as that is where my sciatic nerve pain radiates.
I hope you have found this article helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Thanks for stopping by today!