Thinking of core strength can summon the belief that a pair of washboard abdominals is enough, but the core muscles not only include the abdominals but the hips, pelvis and spine. The core stabilizes the spine and supports the organs. A strong core also supports a healthy digestive and reproductive system, but unfortunately, crunches are not enough!
Crunches Are Not Enough
Overworking the abdominals can also pose a problem, as other core muscles are neglected. Associate professor of physical medicine and co-director of the Program for Abdominal and Pelvic Health at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Sheila Dugan, MD, explains “Your muscles deep in the abdomen get very short and tight, and the muscles on the outside of your hips don’t get any work. Yoga and pilates focus primarily on building core strength and support healthy body alignment.
A Weak Core Increases The Risk of IBS
Slack core muscles can increase the risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and this condition can increase with age. A 2008 study at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom discovered that patients with IBS who participated in frequent exercise experienced less stress, which is known to aggravate symptoms of IBS. Any form of exercise, including gentle walking, engages the core muscles.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Frequent bowel movements are an indication of a healthy colon, but fruits and vegetables are low in calories, contain good levels of fiber, and encourage the elimination of toxic waste. Aim to eat at minimum of five different fruits or vegetables per day.
Target Visceral Fat
Visceral fat is the dangerous fat that surrounds the organs. It can increase the risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. The best way to reduce levels of this vat is to exercise on a regular basis. Cardio training can burn fat during a workout, but any form of weight training, including machine weights, bodyweight, kettlebells or free weight training, engages the core muscles. Without correct form during any type of weight training the body is at risk of injury. Building lean muscle mass encourages a higher metabolism. Adding 1lb of lean muscle mass burns an additional 50 calories per day. 3500 calories equals 1lb of fat. High Intensity Training challenges the body so much that it can continue to burn fat for up to 48 hours afterward. This type of training reduces visceral fat.
The Stability Ball
Gym goers will notice the stability ball hiding in the corner of the room near the abdominal station. The stability ball provides a challenging workout to the core muscles. Excellent exercises to perform on a stability ball include:
Press-ups: Balance the feet on the ball and perform a press up. It requires extra effort to maintain balance. Aim to perform ten. If you can, engage the abdominal muscles by slowly pulling in the ball to hip height before pushing out again. It provides a wonderful workout for the arms, back, shoulders and abdominals.
Sit-ups. Pick up the stability ball with your ankles and lower it without the ball touching the floor. Raise the legs and aim for 20 repetitions. The stability ball provides resistance. Alternatively, sit on the stability ball and perform crunches. Again, the core muscles will be engaged as the body tries to remain balanced.
The Plank: The plank is all round core strengthener, but try performing this exercise on a stability ball. Aim for 30-seconds and build up to a minute.
The Humble Squat
The squat is an effective way to build leg and core strength, plus when performed correctly, it engages a lot of muscles. Position your feet so they are slightly wider than hip width apart, and point the toes slightly outward. Keep the back straight, pull in the abdominals and lower the buttocks until they are almost parallel with the floor. Going this low down will target every muscle in the leg, plus if you keep your back straight and pull in your abdominals, you will build a strong core. The bodyweight squat is a great way to build core strength, but if you really want to challenge the body, use free weights or a squat rack.