Did you know that all movement originates from your core? To say the core is an important area to focus on is an understatement.
Your core muscles are responsible for supporting your spine and providing stability throughout your body.
A strong core can help you improve your posture, prevent injuries, and excel in your workouts and training. This will be especially useful if you're trying to prepare for one of the armed forces entrance exams.
It's also one of the key factors for longevity and maintaining your independence later in life.
In this article, we will discuss the benefits of having a strong core, as well as some beginner and advanced core exercises you can do to improve yours!
What are the Benefits of a Strong Core?
There are four main groups of muscles in your core: the rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse abdominis.
A strong core is the foundation of a good workout, and it brings with it several benefits that will literally transform your day-to-day routine.
Improves Your Posture
One of the most common issues people face these days is poor posture.
This is usually caused by spending too much time sitting down, whether that's at a desk, in front of the TV, or even just driving.
Over time, this can lead to your shoulders rounding forward and your back hunched over. Not only does this look bad, but it can also cause a lot of pain in your back, neck, and shoulders.
If you plan on testing into the armed forces, poor posture is going to directly interfere with your performance during tests like deadlifts and running.
Having a strong core can help improve your posture by teaching your body to stand tall and sit up straight. This will not only make you look better but it will dramatically improve your functional movement patterns.
Reduces Your Risk of Injury
Another benefit of having a strong core is that it can help reduce your risk of injury.
This happens because your core muscles that act as stabilizers for your body. They help you maintain balance and control throughout all your movements, whether you're lifting weights, doing household chores, or doing something as simple as walking.
If your core muscles are weak, they won't be able to do their job as well and you'll be more likely to fall or get injured.
But if your core is strong, it will help protect your joints and spine, and reduce your risk of injury.
Alleviates Lower Back Pain
This is one of the most popular reasons to focus on building a strong core:
If you suffer from lower back pain, then having a strong core can help alleviate some of that pain.
As mentioned above, your core muscles support your spine and help keep it in alignment. When your core is weak your spine can starts to round forward, which can lead to muscle imbalances throughout your body.
As a result, different areas of the body will start to compensate, pulling their own weight as well as the weakened muscles. As a result, you can develop pain in your lower back.
But if your core is strong, it will help support your spine and help to alleviate some of that pain as long as you’re practicing good form and addressing muscle imbalances.
Improve Athletic Performance
Having a strong core can also help improve your performance in any activity.
We want to focus on two areas that are directly related to men and women who want to enter the armed forces: strength performance and running performance.
Studies show that when it comes to strength training and performance, having a strong core can help you lift more weight and perform better with a decreased risk of injury.
This is because your core muscles act as stabilizers, giving you a stronger base to work from. They also help transfer force from your upper body to your lower body, which is important when lifting heavy weights.
And when it comes to running performance , having a strong core can help you run more efficiently, which can transfer to speed and duration.
This is because your core muscles help you maintain good form and prevent your body from wobbling or side-to-side. If you don’t have proper running form, your muscles and joints will wear out faster, causing you to throw in the towel.
They also act as a shock absorber, absorbing the impact of each step and protecting your joints.
Beginner Core Exercises
If you're new to working out, or if you've never really focused on your core muscles before, then these beginner core exercises are a great place to start.
Start in a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Lower yourself down so that your elbows and forearms are touching the ground. Keep your back straight and your core engaged. Hold this position until muscle failure.
Start by lying on one side, placing the weight on your forearm and feet. Lift your hips up so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your feet. Stack your feet on top of each other and then raise your upper body up so that you're resting on your forearm. Keep your core engaged and hold this position until muscle failure.
Lie face down on the ground with your arms and legs outstretched. Slowly lift your arms and legs off the ground, keeping them straight. Hold this position for five to ten seconds, and then slowly lower them back down.
Lie on your back on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind your head and then lift your shoulders off the ground, contracting your abs as you do. Slowly lower back down and repeat.
This one is similar to the crunch except in this version, you’ll bring your upper body all the way up. Lie on your back on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind your head and then lift your torso up until you're sitting all the way up. Slowly lower back down and repeat.
Lie on your back on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind your head and then lift your shoulders off the ground, contracting your abs as you do. As you lift up, twist to one side so that your elbow meets your knee. Return to the center and then twist to the other side. Repeat.
Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lean back slightly and then lift your feet off the ground, keeping your knees bent. Place your hands on your chest or behind your head, and then twist to one side. Return to the center and then twist to the other side. Repeat.
Advanced Core Exercises
If you've been working out for a while and you're looking for some more challenging core exercises, then these advanced core exercises are for you.
Lie on your back on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind your head and then lift your shoulders off the ground, contracting your abs as you do. As you lift up, twist to one side and bring your elbow toward your knee. Return to the center and then twist to the other side. Repeat.
Start in a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Keeping your core engaged, lift your right foot off the ground and bring your knee toward your chest. Return to the starting position and then repeat with the other leg.
Lie on your back on a comfortable surface. Put both legs in the air. Bring your head and shoulders off the ground. Hold your right ankle in the air as you lower your left leg toward the floor. Keep your abs contracted and hold for two to three seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
Side Plank with Leg Raise
Perform the same movement as detailed above but add in a leg raise throughout the exercise.
Sit on the ground with your legs bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lean back slightly and then lift your feet off the ground, keeping your knees bent. Extend your feet out as you lean back toward the ground with arms overhead. Contract your abs, bringing yourself back up and extending your arms forward. Repeat.
Hanging Leg Raise
Grab a pull-up bar with an overhand grip and hang from the bar with your legs straight down. Slowly raise your legs up toward the ceiling, and then lower them back down. Repeat.
Attach a rope handle to a low pulley and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the handle with both hands and stand up straight. Keeping your core engaged, twist your torso to one side and then pull the handle down and across your body toward the other side. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Beginner Core Workouts
Alternate these two core workouts throughout the week. If you want to train your core three times per week, follow an A-B-A workout format. In other words, Monday is Workout A, Wednesday is Workout B, and Friday is Workout A. The following week, you would perform B-A-B.
- Crunch: 2 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions
- Plank: 2 sets until failure
- Superman: 2 sets until failure
- Oblique Crunch: 2 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions
- Sit-Up: 2 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions
- Russian Twist: 2 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions
- Side Plank: 2 sets until failure
- Superman: 2 sets until failure
Advanced Core Workout
Just like with the beginner core workouts, you can alternate these workouts throughout the week. If you’re at a more advanced fitness level, we would recommend following an A-B-A-B format.
Select four days per week to train and follow this breakdown. Most people will select Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. But make sure this core workout fits in with your training schedule.
- Bicycle Crunch: 3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions
- Mountain Climber: 3 sets of 20 to 30 repetitions
- Pilates Scissor: 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
- Side Plank with Leg Raise: 3 sets until failure
- V-Sit: 3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions
- Hanging Leg Raise: 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
- Cable Woodchopper: 3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions
- Pilates Scissor: 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions
Quick Tips for Core Training
Here are some helpful tips that everyone can find useful no matter how long you've been training.
Engage the Core: Make sure to engage your core throughout the entire exercise.
Breathe Properly: Don't forget to breathe! Breathe in during the eccentric portion and breathe out during the concentric portion.
Build a Foundation: Start with bodyweight exercises and progress to weighted exercises when you're ready.
Fit Your Schedule: Incorporate core training into your overall workout routine. Never perform core training in lieu of a well-rounded training program. Focus on compound exercises first, and save isolation exercises for after the big moves are finished.
Remember Consistency: Be consistent with your training and give yourself time to see results.