The Importance of Core Strength

What is core strength, why is it important, and what are the best exercises to do?

Isn't core training just the same as doing an ab workout? If you already do sit ups and crunches, do you need to work on your core strength?

Turns out the answer to that is yes. You see, the core is much more than just the layer of abdominal muscles you can see if you're lucky enough to have a visible six-pack. The core also incorporates the deep transverse abdominis muscles, the obliques, the muscles of the lower back and glutes, and even the structure of the pelvis.

Having a strong core is a bit like having a firm, snug corset wrapping itself right around you, protecting you from knees to shoulders. Your core takes the strain of sport and every day activities so all that impact and load doesn't land directly on your bones. Here's what core strength does for us:

- pulls in the stomach, leading to a flatter tummy

- supports the lower back, minimising risk of injury and back ache

- aids balance, co-ordination and flexibility

- encourages good posture and better flexibility of the hips

- helps with sports, benefitting a range of activities from skiing to swimming

A good core workout will focus on your back, spine, glutes (bottom) and hips as well as the obvious bit: the front of your abs.

Great core workout exercises to try:

1 Mindful crunches. Yes, these are regular ab crunches, but slow them down and pay attention to these key points: draw your belly button toward your spine before you do anything else, then think about moving your ribs toward your hips, closing the gap there, and only then move your shoulders up to your chest

2 Instability crunches performed on a Swiss ball, gym ball or Bosu call. Perform a crunch as above, but add instability by doing them on a ball or Bosu.

3 Single-leg dips lying on a foam roller. Lay the length of your spine along a foam roller, stabilise yourself by holding your core tight, then lift and lower one leg at a time. This is a very small move, so do it slowly.

4 Plank holds. Lie on your front, with hands under shoulders. Rest your weight on your elbows, forearms and wrists, and up on your toes. Keep your body straight from head to heels, with your spine in a long line. Don't sag or raise up at the hips. Breathe normally as you hold this position.

5 Superman. Lie on your front, arms down at your sides (fingers pointing to your feet), and palms down. Tighten your core, lift your chest, keep your eyes looking down, and then raise your arms and legs slightly so the main point of contact with the floor is your hips and belly. Hold, breathe, and slowly lower.

6 Lunges with one foot on a Bosu ball. This introduces instability into a regular lunge movement, which naturally challenges your core. You don't need to add any weight, bodyweight is just fine.

Who should do more core training?

Everyone can benefit from more mindful core workouts. But if you're a top-heavy women, if you've ever had any back or hip injuries, if you often feel aches and pains in  your lower back, or if you spend lots of time sitting at a computer, desk or in a vehicle, then core training is a must. Don't wait for a surgeon or physio to recommend core training to you! Get started now.

READ THIS NEXT: Get a rock-hard core with 15 essential ab exercises 

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