What is core exercise and who can benefit

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In this post, I am going to discuss the question, “what is core exercise, and who can benefit from doing it?”  If you have ever wondered what core exercise is, or what all the fuss is about, please keep reading. In this post, I would like to get into not only defining what the core muscles consist of but also share the benefits of maintaining a strong core.  I will also talk about my personal experience with back injuries and how core exercises are working for me.What is core exercise

What is your core?

To build a strong core, you need to know which muscle groups to work.  A good place to start this discussion is to define what exactly your core consists of.  Defining core muscles can be a bit of a tricky question to answer.  A lot of people tend to think of the core strictly as muscular, well-defined abs, or they think of a flat belly.  While this is partly true, it is not the complete story.

People define core muscles in different terms. Some definitions include your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen.  The glutes and hamstrings play a major role in the core as well. Therefore, I take a broader look and think of core muscles ranging from your armpits to your hamstrings.

What are core exercises?

Although I am not going to dive into specific exercises in this post, I do want to give you an idea what exercises work the core muscles.

  • Planks
  • Side Planks
  • Walking lunges
  • Pushups
  • Mountain climbers Core exercises doing pushups

Benefits of doing core exercises

Body movement originates from the core, before tasks in the other muscles can happen; it all starts with the core.  A strong core will help you with balance and stability whether you are playing in the field, or doing everyday things around the house, like picking up your kid or moving a bucket full of laundry.   Especially as we age, these core muscles need to be kept in tip-top shape.

A strong core helps to keep your body functionally sound.  Beyond the appearance of your abs, there are other reasons to take care of your core:

  • Help to protect your spinal column – The abdominal muscles work with the lumbar muscles and provide support for your spine.
  • Improve athletic performance – Core muscles play a vital role in activities like golf, or tennis where you need to run fast, or twist.
  • Relax tense muscles – Often waking up with a backache is because your spine wasn’t able to relax during the night.  Doing some core work before bed can help to relax those muscles and help you sleep better, at least it does for me.
  • Better posture – working on your core muscles can help you stand up straighter and taller, without even thinking about doing it.  When you work for these muscle groups, you can feel it in your improved posture; I know I sure do.

These are just some of the benefits of doing core exercises.  Not to mention the fact that you are just plain getting some exercise, which we don’t seem to do enough of today.

Sitting can kill your core

If you are like me, we sit so much during the day, and our core muscles can get weak.  I sit in the car as I drive to work, sit at work, then I sit more on the drive home.  This sitting takes up a lot of time, and I even have a sit-stand workstation in my cubicle.  Core training is critical to help with back pain, posture and the other benefits I listed earlier.  I just wanted to reiterate that and give yet another example of why people need to have a strong core, just to offset all the sitting!

Why do you need a strong core?

Core training can be viewed as protecting your most important asset, your body.  As mentioned before, performing core exercises will help to keep your body at its functional best.  It all starts with your core.

Maintaining a strong core helps your other muscles groups out as well.  When you do squats, your core muscles are engaged.  I feel this engagement big time when I do walking lunges, Stairmaster, or elliptical machines.  I also do a lot of single arm, single leg rows and this not only works my lats, but I also engage my abs with this motion.  So even when you aren’t focusing on working your core muscles specifically, you can and are working them.

One funny thing about the core, nobody wants big abs right?  Most people are trying to trim down that area.  With core muscles, compactness is the winner, not bulk, at least when talking about abs, lower back, hips, etc.  Nobody wants bulk in those areas.Core exercise, using swiss ball

My personal story, why the core group is so important to me

Core exercise is a topic near and dear to me.  I have been dealing with back problems most of my adult life, and until the past few years, I did not truly understand why core exercise is so critical to maintaining a healthy back.  You can read my full story here.  In a nutshell, my back problems date back to 1999.  I have had various problems and have tried a lot of different solutions.  I have been through painkillers, shots, and surgery.  It wasn’t until my most recent injury and working with my chiropractor that I finally woke up to the fact that I needed to focus on building a strong core.

Throughout my adult life, I have been in situations where I could not stand up straight, and other times I could not bend over to put my clothes on.  Big shout out to my wife for helping her fully-grown husband get dressed in the morning – Thank you, honey!  I had a hard time driving to work because the pain was so intense.  Not real fun on a 45-minute drive to work.  Needless to say, I have been through some pretty bad back problems.

Core work is boring, and I always hated doing it

I could work out for over an hour, easily, doing everything else, except core.  Then when it came time to do my core work, I would do some crunches and call it a day. I always thought just doing crunches would be enough and even that I would only do here and there.  Six-pack abs are the sign of a strong core right?   Well not exactly.

Now things are much different for me.  I have a significantly better understanding of what I need to do to maintain a strong core, and why.  Now, most everything I do centers around working my core.  Sometimes when I am working out, I don’t even realize I am engaging my core.  Also, I have a lot more motivation.  My injury in 2015 was a serious wake-up call.

In late 2015, I blew a disc in my back and sprained my SI joint. I was doing stupid things at the gym and let my ego get the best of me.  I was bent over at about a 30-degree angle for about six months, dealing with spinal stenosis.  I started working with a chiropractor who finally taught me the value of working out the right way.  Well, working out the right way for me, going forward.

Conclusion: What is core exercise

I hope that after reading this post, you have a better answer to the question “what is core exercise”?  Core exercise is training the muscle groups that make up the core.  As I mentioned, there are different ideas on what exactly makes up your core, but to keep it simple, I like to think of your core as ranging from your armpits to your hamstrings.  Different people will take that to a more granular level I am sure.

For me, recovering from an injury was my motivation to get started on developing and maintaining a strong and healthy core.  For you, the motivation may be different.  As I mentioned earlier, everyone can benefit from doing core exercises.  If you are a big-time athlete or unloading dishes from the dishwasher, core muscles make the body go.

One cool thing too is that you don’t need a gym membership to do a lot of exercises, and you can even do them in just a few minutes during the day. Feel free to check out some of our other posts including Swiss Ball Core Exercises. Hopefully, this will provide some additional guidance on the subject. In addition, here are some more suggestions from Mayo Clinic.  Also, before you start a workout, it’s always good to get some quick warmup exercises in to get your core muscles activated.

12 thoughts on “What is core exercise and who can benefit”

  1. Hey Steve,

    Great info! I really like what you are doing here helping people out with core exercises. I find core quite boring sometimes as you are really just hanging out. It takes a lot of focus when the burn kicks in.

    At one point I was doing 200 inverted sit-ups every single day on a decline bench. However, that puts a lot of stress on your spine so I’m glad you’ve offered up the plank options as those tend to be much more strengthening and much less straining.

    I too sit for long periods of time during the day so it’s essential I get my core exercises in throughout the day. Do you recommend any warmups or stretching exercises to prepare for your core workouts or keep yourself loose?


    • Thank you for your comment, I appreciate it. You must be reading my mind! I am currently working on a post currently about warm-up exercises, so stay tuned.

      BTW, that is a LOT of inverted sit-ups to be doing!

  2. Hi Steve, great post. I’ve been wanting to work on my core strength but wasn’t quite sure how to do it. I knew planking could help, but this confirms it for me that I was on the right track. I’ve had 4 kids over the years, which has made my core strength terrible, and have been wanting to work on my core for a while now. Thanks for listing which ones can help with this issue. How long for each session would I need to do core work for me to get some benefit from it?

    • Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment, I appreciate it. Four kids is a handful! I know there are a lot of women in your position, trying to regain some core strength. I am working on some posts that will provide some core exercise examples so stay tuned. I really try to incorporate core work into my normal routine, so things like standing rows, walking lunges, all work core muscles.

  3. You’ve got very useful information. This – “Sitting can kill your core” – particularly caught my attention. I do a lot of sitting here and there. In the office I will usually have my work done on my seat and spending hours, while at home same thing occurs and on and on like that. Thinking about having core exercise can be a very laborious task to embark on for me – how do you suggest I solve this issue and help myself?


    • Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it. I am currently working on some posts for core muscles. Although these will come from my perspective as a guy dealing back problems, they can still be effective. Stay tuned!

  4. I can relate to what a healthy core can do for one’s health. After having spinal fusion I felt like less of a man with all the restrictions that were put on me physically. However, over time it was a mind over matter type of thinking that got me back to working out with core exercises being my focus.

    • Yes, I can understand, after having a spinal fusion, I imagine the restrictions are pretty limiting. I am glad you are able to overcome your setbacks and hopefully, you are on your way to better health and if possible a more active lifestyle.

  5. Hi Steve,
    I really need to do core exercises. I am glad you added this post to remind me to get started! I have a weak core and that made my recovery after a car accident very difficult and slow. I also have upper crossed and lower crossed syndrome which leads to constant shoulder pain and a tendency to bad posture. This is structural but I also had muscle cramps due to magnesium deficiency and pain and tenderness where ligaments attach to bone due to my inflammatory issues and arthritis. I was told my ligaments were too loose also so they don’t hold everything together as well as they should. That means my body is prone to sprains and strains.

    The whole result is some muscles that are always tight and some that are loose and weak. I am sure improving my core strength would help! I need to get on this and not ignore it any longer. I was just looking at exercises to improve the upper crossed and lower crossed syndrome problems over the last few days. Now I can add core exercises to this list.

    I will be interested to see what you add here on this topic.

    • Hi Jessica, thank you so much for your comment. I am sorry to hear about your accident. It sounds like you have a really good understanding of exactly what ails you are dealing with. I am a true believer in core strength. As I mentioned in my post, no matter what types of activities a person is doing, the core muscles lead the way. If you are able to perform some core exercises without pain, that would be fantastic. I am working on some new content about developing a core exercise plan, so that may be right up your alley. My experience has been recovering from a pretty serious back injury. Since that time, my focus has been on developing a stronger core. I have been progressing nicely and I feel stronger than I have in years. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

  6. Hi Steve

    That was great article! I’ve been neglectful when it come to core workouts. I’ve been working out for years but never really paid attention to this particular group. This article really opened my eyes.
    Thank you so much

    • Thank you very much for your comment. I agree with you in that I think a lot of people overlook working core muscles. Sometimes they are tough to work and for me, it was just plain boring. I also didn’t realize early on how many different exercises can target the core, so that has been a tremendous help for me.


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