You’ve probably seen the popular TV show, The Simpsons. Remember Mr. Burns?
That’s Charles Montgomery Burns. He’s the cranky and maniacal owner of nuclear plant in the fictional town of Springfield. And he’s got a little problem with core strength.
For a lot of people, weak core muscles aren’t quite as obvious as Mr. Burns. But thanks to an over-the-top character created by Matt Groening, the signs are obvious:
- He’s got a hunchback
- His shoulders are always slouched
- His head and neck juts forward
- His posture resembles a blob-like form at times
- And if you’ve watched enough episodes, you’d know he’s incredibly weak and prone to injuries.
How’s your core strength?
If you struggle with exercises that engage your core muscles (just about every compound movement does) there’s room for improvement.
Of if you feel like you can’t level up when it comes to squats and deadlifts, improving core strength may be just the thing to help you set a PR.
Looking for ways to improve core strength?
Let’s take a closer look at core strength, it’s benefits, and some exercises to help you get stronger:
4 Benefits of Core Strength
Ever wonder why core strength gets so much buzz in the gym, fitness classes, and online? Many core strength exercises can help you carve up your abs, which is probably why it’s a such a popular topic.
But there are a lot more important benefits to core strength than six-pack abs. For example, core strength helps you with:
1. Everyday activities. You bend down to tie your shoes, pick up a package, sit down, stand up. Every one of these moves requires core strength to perform safely. And if you lack the core strength to do simple activities, even getting out of bed is hard.
2. Work. What’s your job like? Are you on the go, moving and lifting things? Or do you have desk job, where you spend the majority of your time sitting? Core strength can help you lift, move, twist, and stand. And if your core is weak, you might experience pain and stiffness the longer you sit, especially in your lower back.
3. Balance. Like playing sports like basketball, football, soccer, or rugby? Like hiking, lifting and training? Balance is critical for every one of these activities to keep you upright, support your spine, and help you avoid a fall that could lead to an injury.
4. Posture. Take another look at Mr. Burns posture, and you can can see he’s got a lot of imbalances. Neglect to do anything about it, and it raises the risk for pain and injuries over time. Fortunately, developing a stronger core can have positive impact on overall posture.
Developing core strength can improve your quality of life, lower your risk for injuries, allow you to train harder and heavier, and improve performance.
Get to Know the Muscle Groups of Core Strength
Ever wonder what muscles people are talking about when core strength comes up in conversation between sets?
Too many people think core strength is simply referring to your abdominal muscles. That’s partly true. But your core actually includes three primary muscle groups:
Abdominals. These are the muscles that make up your six-pack. (Don’t worry. You’ll get there by dropping a bit of body fat with diet and exercise). Your abs include the transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, and rectus abdominis.
Back. If your back is weak, you’ll know pretty fast when you pick up a weight to squat or deadlift. Your back muscles are critical to core strength and stability. Some of the muscles that support your back and core include the erector spine (the muscles that run down both sides of your spine), lats, and muscles that support your hips.
Glutes. Probably the most overlooked muscle group when it comes to core strength. But you need strong glutes to get up, take the stairs, run and walk, and obviously to crush your next leg day.
Big Lifts for Core Strength
If compound lifts like squats and deadlifts are a regular part of your training, your core muscles are getting a solid workout every time you complete a set.
And you’ll get better at these lifts by consciously engaging your core. Take a deep breath. Tighten your core, and work through your set with good form.
That’s a great place to start to improve core strength. But core-specific exercise can also help you develop your abs, back, and glutes.
Give These Core Strength Exercises a Try
If compound lifts are a regular part of your training routine, your core muscles are getting worked when you do. Keep that in mind, because your core muscles need recovery time just like any another other muscle group.
Looking for core strength exercises you can add to your routine? These moves will help:
- Directions: Get in plank position. Forearms and toes on the ground, back straight. Now hold it there for 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat 3-5 times.
- Modify it. Try Planks with side rotation, or Plank to Push-up. Or just try to hold a plank a little longer each time.
Standing Low-to-High Cable Chops
- Directions: Stand to the side of a cable handle in a low position. Pick up the cable with the hand closest to the handle. Grip it with both hands, and stand up straight. Now rotate away from the machine, moving from low to high. Return to the starting point, repeat. 10-15 reps per set. Both sides.
- Modify it. Try this exercise from high-to-low, or use a dumbbell instead of a cable machine.
Medicine Ball Roll-Out
- Directions: Kneel in front of a medicine ball. Place your hands on top of the ball. Slowly roll your hands forward over the medicine ball, keeping your core tight as you get closer to the floor. Go as far as you can, then roll your hands backward, returning to the starting position.
- Modify it: Use an ab-roller, or balance ball, instead of a medicine ball.
- Directions: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended. Keep your shoulders back, neck neutral, eyes forward, and back straight. Walk 30 yards. Rest, Repeat 3-5 times.
- Modify it: Use a trap bar, or farmer-walk bar with handles. Add weight to make it harder, without compromising form.
These are just a few of many exercises you can do to strengthen your core, improve your compound lifts, build better abs, and reduce your risk for injury.
What exercises do you recommend to build core strength? Let’s discuss on Facebook.
1. Harvard University. (2018). The real-world benefits of strengthening your core. Harvard Health Publishing. From: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-real-world-benefits-of-strengthening-your-core
- Johnson, C., et al. (2018). The relationship of core strength and activation and performance on three functional movement screens. Journal of Strength Training and Conditioning Research. From: https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2018/04000/The_Relationship_of_Core_Strength_and_Activation.35.aspx
- Akuthota, V., et al. (2008). Core stability exercise principles. Current Sports Medicine Reports. From: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Fulltext/2008/01000/Core_Stability_Exercise_Principles.14.aspx