Why You Should Care About Having A Strong Core

A strong core has to do with a bit more than the aesthetics of washboard abs. While there's nothing wrong with just trying to get a six-pack, having a strong core improves balance, stability, and may help lessen back pain (via Mayo Clinic).

One 2020 study found core strengthening and hip exercises can also help increase overall physical activity and function in those suffering from non-specific lower back pain. This is especially important because back pain is a common health complaint among adults in the U.S, as per a Statista survey. In fact, in the last three months, approximately 39% of American adults experienced back pain. Therefore, adding some core stabilizing and strengthening exercises to your fitness routine may not be a bad idea. Plus, they don't require a gym or any fancy equipment to get started, according to Mayo Clinic. 

Your core encompasses everything: your upper back, chest glutes, and lower back — aka your trunk (via Livestrong). It's also responsible for posture, and helps with everyday activities ranging from running, walking, and lifting weights, to grabbing groceries, twisting, and bending. Basically, your core muscles help with all your movements. This is because when you train your core muscles, you're also strengthening your lower back, abdomen, hips, and pelvis (per Mayo Clinic).

What exercises build your core muscles?

When it comes to building your core muscles, you'll want to focus on two things — strengthening and lengthening exercises (via Healthline). For core strengthening exercises, it's essential to do these every day since they stabilize your spine and support your entire body, shares Nike master trainer, Alex Silver-Fagan (per Livestrong).

The best ab-burning exercise is bicycle crunches since they target the long flat muscles in the abdomen — obliques and rectus abdominus, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Nevertheless, bicycle crunches aren't the only exercise to stick with. Other exercises to add to your core repertoire include forearm planks, Russian twist, and dead bug, according to Self. Keep in mind, you can always add weight for a more advanced ab-burning activity.

Believe it or not, ab-specific exercises aren't the only way to fire up your core muscles. Other methods include tightening your core as your training to resist movement. This includes any single-leg balancing exercises, such as single-leg squats, and resistant moves that require hauling weights above your head or close to your chest. 

What exercises stretch your core muscles?

Lengthening exercises that target the core muscles are important too because they help prevent lower back pain, aid in muscle recovery, boost flexibility, and get your muscles warmed up to start exercising (via Healthline). Daily stretching also helps improve circulation, and muscle blood flow, according to a 2018 study. Some of the hardest working muscles are found in the core so it's important to add stretching into your core workout routine to increase mobility, posture, flexibility, and to limit the chances of injury or pain, explains the founder of Lyons Den Power Yoga, Bethany Lyons (per Livestrong).

When it comes to core stretches, some of the best lengthening exercises are classic yoga poses. Healthline suggests incorporating a cat-cow pose. During this particular stretch, you'd be arching your back like a cat, then dropping your stomach like a cow, which targets flexibility and mobility of the abdomen, and stretches the lower back.

For a deeper abdominal stretch and hip opener, attempt a cobra pose. For this stretch, you'd be laying flat on your stomach, then using your hands to push your upper body up. However, it's important to never stretch past your limits and breathe through each stretch. If you're experiencing any severe discomfort or back pain, speak to your doctor first to see what exercises fit best for you.