Obsessed with getting enviable flat abs a la Jennifer Lopez? While sporting a six-pack is a common gym goal -- thanks to midriff tops and bikini season -- focusing on strengthening your core is by far a more effective health and fitness objective.
Here are reasons why you should do away with the aesthetic fascination with abs, and instead view your core as the most essential part of your fitness routine.
What is the Core
Your abs are so much more than a ripped six-pack. In fact, your core covers your midsection and it involves all your muscles in that area including the front, back and sides, a.k.a. as the traverse abdominis, erector spinae, obliques, and your lower lats. They're basically the girdle of your body as these muscles all work together as stabilizers for the entire body.
Why the Core is So Important
Basically, every movement you complete in life, from the mundane to the extreme, relies on your core. All of these muscles help you perform a wide of array of movements, like turning and twisting, as well as all types of basic physical activities, such as sitting up in bed in the morning, walking, gardening, sitting at your desk. They're also an important part of performing activities, like running, dancing, and biking.
According to Harvard Health, "a strong core also enhances balance and stability. Thus, it can help prevent falls and injuries during sports or other activities."
In fact, low back pain is often a sign of a weak core. Harvard Health reports, "Low back pain — a debilitating, sometimes excruciating problem affecting four out of five Americans at some point in their lives — may be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles."
Why You Need to Include Core in Your Fitness Goals
Maybe you're not obsessed with getting a six-pack. Maybe you just want to complete that 10K run, or you're more excited about tackling your rock climbing class. Guess what? You need core strength for those activities, too.
The core forms an essential central link between your upper and lower body, and acts as the powerhouse for many physical activities like running, biking, swimming, golfing, tennis, kayaking, and many other athletic sports.
A weak or unbalanced core can affect your balance and strength, and undermine your efficacy to perform your favorite sports.
The Best Core Exercises to Do
When it comes to getting abs of steel (which you probably still want anyway), it all comes to first learning how to engage your core strength properly. This means more than sucking in your belly button, but feeling the lower part of your abs engage to support your lower spine while also activating your glutes and slightly tucking in your pelvis.
So which core exercises are best? Think fewer crunches and more planks. And the more unstable the exercise -- like bird dog -- the more you're working to stabilize your core muscles.
You can start your core strengthening routine by doing the following two to three times a week.
Plank hold: Plant both hands underneath the shoulders and align body into plank position with grounding toes into the floor and squeezing the glutes to stabilize the body. Neutralize the neck and spine by looking at a spot on the floor about a foot beyond the hands. Your head should be in line with your back. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat.
Side Plank: Start with one forearm directly below your shoulder and feet together. Contract your core and raise your hips until your body is in a straight line from head to toe. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
Bird Dog: Begin on all fours with hands directly under shoulders and knees underneath hips. Keeping neutral spine, gently lift right leg and left arm off from the floor at the same time. Hold for a moment, and gently return to starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. That's one rep. Complete 10 reps.
Dead Bug: Lie face-up with your arms extended toward the ceiling, directly over your shoulders, and knees bent 90 degrees over hips, calves parallel to the floor. Slowly move right arm and left leg away from you (arm behind you, leg toward the floor). Slowly return to starting position, and repeat on opposite side. That's one rep. Complete 10 reps.
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