What is the best way to train the core?

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The best way to train the core area is to follow progressive exercises that will help stabilize the core muscles first, and then strengthen the body's midsection as you become more advanced and capable of handling more intense exercises. It is important to note that a common misconception is that exercising your core simply means working your abdominal muscles. Core exercises also strengthen your hips, back and all muscles in the midsection of the body. A strong core is important for posture and will also help you properly perform all functional activities in your daily life. Having a strong core has also been shown to help alleviate lower back pain.

If you are new to core exercise, you should start with Core Stabilization exercises. Example Core Stabilization exercises include: Marching, Floor Bridge, Floor Prone Cobra and Prone Iso-Ab (Plank Pose). You can work up to performing 12-20 repetitions of each exercise (1-4 sets). You should perform Stabilization exercises for at least four weeks before moving on to more advanced core exercises.

Examples of more advanced core exercises include: Ball Crunch, Back Extensions, Cable Rotations and Reverse Crunches. You can perform 8-12 repetitions of each exercise (2-4 sets).  Finally, as you get stronger you can then progress to more explosive core movements (also known as Power Core Exercises). You will use a medicine ball to perform these exercises. Examples include the Rotation Chest Pass, Woodchop Throw and Front Medicine Ball Oblique Throw. Perform 8-12 repetitions (2-3 sets).

Exercises such as the plank, side plank, back extension, hip extension, reverse crunch, ball crunch with medicine ball, ball dumb bell press, knee ups, push ups, leg raises, bicycle kicks, lung with twist and a proper squat will strengthen the core muscles.  While sitting, standing or driving practicing the drawing in maneuver by pulling your navel in towards the spine and hold for ten seconds and release and repeat. Make sure you are breathing throughout the exercise. This exercise works the transverse abdominus and will increase the stability of the lower back and can be done anytime throughout the day.

 

In addition to emphasizing "stabilization" exercises for the core, you can train the core as part of a whole body exercise.  Try working one arm presses and one arm pulls from a ground based (standing) position.  Emphasize controlled movement that utilizes hip and spine motions while pressing and pulling with the arm.  This will recruit the core musculature in a functional way and you may find you don't need to isolate the core muscles in most of your training.

Eric Beard
Sports Medicine
There is no one best way to train the core but most people could benefit from a stabilization style of core training. Stabilization training for the core is when we practice engaging the smaller muscles around the spine and abdomen (like the transverse abdominus) first and then engage the larger muscles around the trunk (life the external oblique). The goal of this type of training is to hold the spine still or stable. This can reduce risk of injury to the spine and the surrounding  structures  like inter-vertebral discs, ligaments and muscles.  Once we have become proficient with this type of training then other types of core training are possible.
The core consists of the hips, pelvis, abdominals, lower back, mid-back, and neck regions of the body; essentially, everything but the arms and legs. Because the core encompasses more than just our abs or lower back, effective core training should consist of more than just abdominal or lower-back exercises. Also, the muscles of the core can be divided into distinct categories that have to work together to ensure proper movement and function. Some of the core muscles, especially those located closest to the spine, are primarily responsible for providing stability or preventing excessive movement that could place increased stress on our spine. Other core muscles, generally the larger and more visible muscles in the mirror, are primarily responsible for generating movement. Therefore, an effective core training program should include a variety of exercises that involve stability, or little to no motion, as well as exercises that involve movements in all directions. An example of a stability-oriented core exercise is the plank, whereas an example of a movement-oriented core exercise is a stability ball crunch. Both are effective core exercises; however, selection of appropriate exercises should be based on your fitness program goals.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.