Today 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.
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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.
- Side Planks
- Walking lunges
- Mountain climbers
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.
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.
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. Check out my post about swiss ball core exercises to perform and how to do them. Hopefully, this will provide some additional guidance on the subject. In addition, here are some suggestions from Mayo Clinic. Also, check out my post about best warm-up exercises to help you get started.
If you have any comments or questions, please contact me below, and I will get back to you just as soon as I can.