No matter what your fitness goals may be, having a strong core must necessarily feature on the top of that list. You need this not only when working out but for your daily activities too.
Your core is not just your abs; it involves all your muscles in that area including the front, back and sides. These muscles work as stabilizers for the entire body.
Why is it so important to strengthen your core?
Lowers risk of back pain: Since abs are in front of your spine, they play a vital task in supporting your girdle area. If they are weak, the adjoining muscles need to work harder to hold your spine straight, your back muscles included.
Improve your balance: A strong core makes it easy to move any way and to keep your balance, which becomes even more imperative as you age.
Perform daily tasks easier: Core muscles play a role in nearly every movement- be it placing something on the top shelf or bending over to tie your shoes!
Attain proper posture: Proper posture means that you sit/stand tall with your shoulders back and head held high. Even so, most of us tend to round our shoulders and slump forward. By strengthening your core, proper posture becomes easier, leading to improved breathing and less wear-tear on your spine.
Take this test to see just how strong a core you possess:
- Being unable to hold a plank: Try holding the plank position. If you cannot hold for at least 50 – 60 seconds before falling flat, your core needs some help.
- Leg Lowering Test: Lie on your back on the floor with legs straight up in the air. Try to get them perpendicular to the floor, without bending your knees. Lower your legs towards the ground slowly. Stop if you feel your back arching. The goal is to lower your legs without arching your back, to at least a 45-degree angle.
- Hollowing Test: Take a deep breath. As you exhale, pull your stomach back towards your spine as far as you can. Hold for 10 seconds; if you can’t, your core needs attention.
- Bad Balance: Stand on one foot with your eyes closed. Switch from one leg to the other. If you can’t hold for minimum 10 seconds with each leg, your balance is sub-par, indicating your core definitely needs to be stronger.
- Poor Posture: Are you slouched and slumped over most of the time? Bad posture is one of the signs that your core is not at its best strength and could do with improvement.
How to increase your core strength:
If most of the above points were negative for you, fret not! Core strength can be improved, but be ready to put in the work. It will reap results that you will definitely never regret.
Can’t lower your legs without compromising your lower back? Try doing one leg at a time, bending your other leg to place your foot on the floor. You can start with bent legs, instead of straight and work up to it.
Postures like Plank, Side Plank and Boat Pose may not be your favourites, but add them to your practice, targeting holding each pose for a minute; they will help you build core strength faster, and you may soon actually enjoy them. Try F2F or Body type workout as they provide all the combination to strengthen your core.
Perform weight shifts. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Try to distribute your weight evenly on both feet, then shift all of your weight to one foot and lift the other off the ground. Hold this position for 30 seconds, or as long as you can comfortably maintain balance. Return to standing with both feet on the floor, and switch sides.
Practice good posture while sitting and standing, avoid giving in to slouching and keep your core tucked in tight.
Advanced: Use one arm or one leg so that your core has to adjust to the lopsided forces. Practice deadbugs, single leg deadlifts, lift one leg off the ground while planking, stacked legs/one leg raised for side plank and bird-dogs.
Advanced: Use a balance board or bosu ball, which will help you work your abdominal muscles. You can use it while sitting, kneeling or standing, for a challenge.
Above all, remember to keep your core engaged at all times, whether you are working out or performing regular tasks. The stronger your core, the less energy and effort you need to put into simple movements. Besides, doing all these core strengthening moves can actually put you on your path to getting a flat tummy…And who doesn’t want that?!