Fitness Essentials for Health and Performance
Core strength exercises are key to a sound weight training program regardless of your training goals. There are many exercise options that work the muscles around your hips and trunk, each with advantages for targeting specific goals.
Because of their collective role in strengthening and stabilizing the trunk, as well as increasing flexibility, it is important to include priority core exercises that work all three primary ranges of motion of the trunk:
*Bending and straightening (flexion, extension),
*Twisting (rotation), and
*Side bending (lateral flexion).
When your trunk is strong and stable, your posture improves. You also tend to prevent back injuries and maintain more mobility for everyday activities. For sports training, core strengthening exercises are critical.
Abdominal and Trunk Exercises
There are numerous core strengthening exercise alternatives that you can perform without weights, using free weights, weight machines, or other equipment. Many can easily be performed with no equipment at all.
Flexion-Extension: The curl up, or crunch, is a key exercise for the rectus abdominis muscle used for trunk bending and extending movements.
The rectus abdominis is the main moving muscle used in the curl. Once your shoulder blades leave the ground, your hip flexors also come into play. Adding a slight trunk rotation recruits more of the oblique muscles, which neutralize each other when strict flexion/extension is performed.
Myrtle Ferguson performing Back ExtensionBack hyperextensions performed on a machine that supports the trunk. With the feet locked under the device, the low back, hips, and hamstrings contract to lift the upper body to the neutral position or beyond (hyperextension). Hyperextension is a range used in many sport skills.
Rowing machines strengthen hip and low back extensors, as well as the upper back (when the arms perform a pulling motion). The hamstrings are less involved when the knees are bent during the extension.
Rotation: Strengthening exercises for trunk rotation involve placing resistance against the twisting action. Free exercises and specially-designed machines are great for working the rotational muscles.
Note: If you place a bar on your shoulders for strengthening the obliques used for trunk rotation, the resistance puts pressure downward–not against rotation. Heavy weights create compression on your spine, making it vulnerable to injuries. The best core strength exercises for rotation should offer resistance against the twisting action.
Side bending with dumbbells is one method of strengthening the trunk in lateral flexion. There are many other free exercises that move the trunk side to side. Lateral flexion exercises are important, but are often neglected in core strengthening regimens.
It is a common misunderstanding that losing stomach fat comes from performing core strengthening exercises (particularly ab exercises). Stronger, larger abdominal muscles actually replace the location of the fat. Fat, or adipose tissue, is lost by increasing activity and maintaining or reducing caloric intake. See Weight Control
Core strength exercises are especially important for Olympic lifters, athletes performing Olympic lifting variations, heavy squats, and dead lifts. The demands of heavy lifting on the low back are counterbalanced by strong abdominal muscles.
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