Many people associate core strength training with ridiculous ab techniques that have been shown on TV infomercials for years.
If you’re one of those people, I don’t blame you!
I used to believe that core strength just applied to the abdominal muscles.
However, the image has become clearer after several years of training (primarily in the sport of powerlifting) and much research.
What is core strength?
Despite popular belief, a strong core is sustained by more than just muscles. In reality, the quality and depth of one’s breathing are linked to the strength of one’s core.
Many people in our society don’t breathe properly: they don’t take deep belly breaths with a concentration on filling the base/full 360-degree core.
Before air enters the upper chest and lungs, they should expand the lower rib cage.
Many people do not breathe deeply and instead spend the majority of their days only scratching the surface of their breathing capacity, relying solely on upper chest breathing.
So, before you try any of the exercises below, focus on your breathing.
Wrap a thick string (such as a shoestring) around your waist and cross it over your navel (much like a belt worn high).
Ensure that you can place two fingers between the string and your navel – this will prevent you from trying it too tightly and allowing you to breathe freely into your belly.
The goal is to keep the string on your body throughout the day and use it as a tactile reminder to focus on deep belly breathing.
When you breathe deeply into your belly button, you’ll notice a string tightening around your entire core.
After a few days of experimenting with this method, attempt the exercises below without the string while still focusing on your breathing.
Health Benefits of Core Strength
Core strength is a key element of general health, and we’ll look at a few exercises that can help you not just increase core strength but also core stability, which is perhaps even more important!
10 Core Strengthening Exercises
1. Suitcase Carry with Kettlebells or Dumbbells (“Farmers Walks”)
You’ll note that many of these exercises have easy-to-understand names, and this one is no exception. It works in the same way that it sounds.
Farmers Walks entail picking up a relatively heavyweight and holding it on each side (left first, then right) for 10-15 paces while walking steadily (focused on core breathing).
You should not walk lopsidedly; instead, keep your spine straight and neutral while allowing your core to sustain that stability.
2. Front Plank
Put your arms shoulder-width apart and bring your elbows to the ground in a push-up position. Hold the static position for as long as you can without your knees contacting the ground, then repeat.
3. Side Plank
This core-strengthening exercise is similar to a front plank, only you pivot to each side and rest totally on one elbow or the other.
Perform with the opposite arm stretched straight into the air or parallel to your body, running down the side.
With or without weight, and with or without side bends, they can be done. This is a terrific core strength workout to do right after Farmers Walks if you’re using weights.
Side bending is accomplished by stretching your arm across and forming a half-moon crescent shape while lunging — the arm you arch should be on the same side as the leg with the knee on the ground.
4. Barbell Overhead Press
You wouldn’t think that overhead pressing would have anything to do with core strength, but it does! A straight line overhead press is impossible to do without first stabilizing and bracing your entire core.
When doing the action, I recommend filming yourself from the side and checking that your bar path maintains a straight line over your head.
5. Dumbbell Overhead Press
This exercise is similar to the barbell overhead press, but it demands more core and shoulder stability.
6. Hanging Leg Raises
This exercise is beneficial not just to core strength and stability, but also to the overall health of the shoulders.
Maintain a straight back and shoulder line while hanging – this will keep you steady and in control throughout the activity.
Instead of swinging your legs up and down, raise and lower them slowly and deliberately.
7. Bird-Dog Exercise
Lean forward and place your hands on the ground, with your fingers facing forward, directly under your shoulders (shoulder-width apart).
If required, adjust your hands and knees so that your knees are directly beneath your hips and your hands are directly beneath your shoulders.
Extend your right arm straight forward and your left leg straight back at the same time. Rep on the other side, this time with the left arm straight ahead and the right leg straight back.
8. Goblet Squat
This is a lot of fun! This can be done with a kettlebell, a dumbbell, or even a heavy book.
In essence, you’re standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and pointed out at a 45-degree angle. Ascend into a deep squat and counter-balance with the weight you’re holding.
Before ascending, stay in the bottom posture for 7 or more deep breaths.
9. Dragonfly or Dragon Flag (by Bruce Lee)
This action, made popular by martial artist Bruce Lee, necessitates the use of a decline bench or something similar that can hold your complete weight.
On the bench, lie flat on your back with your feet closer to the ground (on the decline).
Grab the bench behind your neck, then raise your legs from the lower position while using your arms and core to stabilize your upper body.
10. Front Squat
Front squats, which target both the anterior and posterior muscle chains, are undoubtedly the best approach to improve overall core strength. They can be done in three different ways.
First, by crossing the arms over and holding the barbell above the chest (resting on the collarbone), or second, by not crossing the arms and holding the bar with hands shoulder-width apart.
The third method is similar to the second, but if wrist movement is a concern, a pair of straps can be used to keep the bar in place with each hand/wrist.
Core strength should not be treated as a separate entity; rather, it should be viewed as part of the larger ecosystem that is human physiology.
Because of this, core strength is linked to digestion and excretion, and can even be linked to psychological well-being. Many people regard our gut to be a second brain, and if our digestion is in order, so will our intellect.
To help your body reach its maximum potential and stay healthy – both physically and psychologically – try these core strength workouts.
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