To effectively strengthen the core, you’ll need to do exercises that cause your body to become unstable.
Once you start improving core stability, the benefits translate into both sports performance and daily life. Trainer Jon Hinds, a core training advocate, suggests making sure that every one of your exercises includes some form of stabilization.
“We don’t use any machines, and we teach people how to use the body to run, jump, crawl, and climb,” says Hinds, founder of Monkey Bar Gymnasium and inventor of the Power Wheel. “If you have very strong core stabilization, the rest of your body is likely stable too.”
So with all due respect to six-pack abs and the guys who pursue them, here are five ways a stronger core provides all-around benefits to your everyday life:
1. A strong core improves sports performance
When playing a sport such as soccer, tennis, baseball or football, you’ll need to produce force with your limbs. In order to do produce this force, your spine will have to be neutral and your core stabilized.
“Exercises that cause you to stabilize teach your body how to react in sports performance or life situations where you need it–running, jumping, and any other situation that requries a quick reaction,” says Hinds. “Crunches or situps, although they make muscles burn, aren’t going to help athletic performance because the body isn’t put in an unstable environment where the upper and lower abs are engaged together.”
Instability training doesn’t necessarily have to involve platforms like suspension trainers, Bosu Balls or balance boards. Using bilateral and unilateral free weight movements in conjunction with core-targeted exercise will activate the core musculature and make it able to produce force during athletic movements such as throwing, jumping, and swinging.
2. A strong core prevents lower-back pain
Improving mobility and strength in the hips, thighs, glutes and back not only prevents back pain, it can also relieve the aches. Hinds advises using the Power Wheel to engage these areas and recover from back pain.
“Lie on your back with feet in the wheel, roll the wheel up to your butt, then lift your hips off the ground,” says Hinds. “Doing exercises like that 3-4 times a week would reduce pain, eventually to the point of completely getting rid of any back pain.”
Core strength makes people more mindful of performing daily living movements such as lifting a box, gardening, or sitting at a desk correctly since maintaining a straight spine becomes a subconscious reflex over time.
3. A strong core can improve your posture
The way you stand and sit will impact how you feel on a daily basis. Ideal posture places the least amount of compression on the back as possible, resulting in minimum wear and tear on the spine. Bad posture occurs when your pelvis tilts forward, causing an exaggerated spinal curve. Strengthening the core will correct bad posture by distributing weight evenly throughout the body.
“Doing core exercises that build the abdominal wall, open up the hip flexors, and strengthen the lower back puts a person in better posture so they feel better and life is just easier for them,” Hinds says.
In daily living and during exercise, Hinds stresses the importance of maintaining neutral hips, meaning a standing person should have a slight curve in their lower back and their belly button shouldn’t come forward.
“To ensure neutral hips, pull the belly button up towards the ribs, or ribs toward the belly button. Imagine lifting the belly button and ribs towards one another. That helps achieve a tall posture.”
4. You'll breathe better with a strong core
Breathing training and core training go hand-in-hand. Developing stronger breathing muscles, such as the diaphragm and intercostals, translates into better core strength, according to a Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study. At the same time, a stronger core allows for easier breathing.
“Strengthening the core and getting neutral hips will stack your body better and make it easier to breathe,” says Hinds. “Your organs and diaphragm sit in the proper position.”
The participants in the aforementioned study also saw an improvement in running economy from combining breathing training and core training during six weeks of HIIT training.
5. You'll develop a slimmer waistline
The proper intensity, exercise selection, and frequency of core training will reduce your waist circumference, a marker of long-term health risk, not mention the aesthetically pleasing benefit of six-pack abs. Incorporate Hinds’ favorite eight core exercises to build core stability and get ripped.
Bonus: Jon's top core exercises
- Power Wheel Crawl
- Power Wheel Roll Out
- Slant Board Hanging Leg Raise
- Seated Knee Tucks
- Incline Plane Yoga Pose
- Sphinx Yoga Pose
- Hanging Windshield Wipers