Best Core Training Exercises
June 2, 2013
Core training is an essential part of any workout. A strong core provides balance, improves coordination and aids in force transmittal from the lower body to the upper body and vice versa. Picking up luggage, opening a door while carrying groceries in one hand, pushing a vehicle or lawnmower can be difficult tasks if the core is not strong enough to stabilize the torso and transmit the force from your legs to your arms. A strong core improves the efficiency of many movements and reduces injury potential. Traditional core training consisted of sit-ups, crunches and other hip and low back flexion exercises which focused on only one movement of the core and neglected the rotational and stabilizing role of the core muscles. Appropriate core training targets the muscles of the low back, hips, hamstrings and abdominals. Depending on who you talk to or read core training includes all muscles that attach to your spine and pelvis, but we aren’t going to go that far right now.
An important and under trained muscle of the core is the transverse abdominus (TrA), and no it is not one you can see at low levels of body fat. The TrA is nature’s weight-lifting belt. It supports the spine and stabilizes the pelvis during lifting. Knowing how to activate it can dramatically improve strength and help prevent damage to the lower back during physical activity. If you want to feel it actually contract sit on the edge of a chair and place your fingers about an inch in from your illiac crest (“hip bones”) towards your belly button. Now lift one leg while staying balanced on the edge of the chair and you should be able to feel the TrA engage/contract. The easiest way to activate the TrA, as well as the rest of the abdominal muscles is through a technique called bracing. To best visualize bracing, think of tightening your abdominals without sucking in as if someone is about to punch you in the stomach. Bracing needs to be done anytime you are lifting anything heavy. Whether you are performing a bench press, squat, military press, deadlift or a standing bicep curl, bracing will stabilize your spine and torso and allow you to lift the weight with a greater amount of control.
This brings us to the question: What are the best four core exercises?
There is a myriad of core exercises and equipment available to choose from. Regardless of what exercise you choose, the exercises need to be ones that you can and will do. Here are the four exercises in no particular order:
3) Front Plank
4) Side Plank
These exercises were shown to have the greatest core muscle activity using integrated electromyography (IEMG) and had the added benefit of working multiple muscle groups. With the deadlift and squat, researchers found that as little as 50% of an individual’s 1RM was enough to stimulate significant increases in core muscle activation. Notice there these exercises are not Bosu ball or stability ball exercises. Although the Bosu ball and stability ball (aka swiss or physio ball) can and do challenge stability and balance, it is because of their inherent instability that the core muscles were not able to generate large amounts of force and actually get stronger. These balls aid in improving neuromuscular coordination which is important during the early stages of a fitness or strength training program and in a therapeutic setting, but not later in a training program.
1. Hamlyn, N., Behm, D.G., & Young, W.B. (2007). Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(4), 1108-1112.
2. McBride, J.M. (2006). New training techniques. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Health, Leisure & Exercise Science, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
3. Nuzzo, J.L., McCaulley, G.O., Cormie, P., Cavill, M.J., & McBride, J.M. (2008). Trunk muscle activity during stability ball and free weight exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(1), 95-102.