How to develop core strength and stability
Updated: Apr 15, 2022
The benefits of strong core muscles can be felt not just in your workouts and physical activity, but also in everyday life.
You might not realise it, but every movement your body makes involves using your core. From getting out of bed in the morning and putting your shoes on, to lifting shopping out of the car, walking up and down stairs or even getting on and off the toilet!
In this blog and video, we explain why regular core training is important and outline six key core strength exercises you can do at the gym or at home.
Strong core vs weak core: the benefits of strong core muscles
Your core is part of one of the most important muscle groups in the body, called the anterior chain. Along with the hip flexors, quadriceps and pectorals, these are the muscles at the front of the body, responsible for controlling forward movement, balance and stability.
Conversely, the muscles at the back of the body are part of the posterior chain – the calves, hamstrings, glutes and upper and lower back – producing most of the power to propel the body forward, as well as controlling head, shoulder and neck movement.
Each of the anterior and posterior muscles work independently, but they also work together in a kinetic chain with connecting joints to support full body movement and stability.
Weak core muscles can lead to poor posture, especially those who work in desk jobs. It can also make you more susceptible to lower back pain and muscle injuries or imbalances.
Because all of your muscle groups are interconnected, having weaknesses and imbalances in one area can have a knock-on effect in others, which can lead to injuries down the line. If you’ve noticed you’re stronger, more flexible or able to balance better on one side of the body vs the other, this is probably due to muscle imbalances.
Having strong core muscles gives you a solid foundation to improve balance, stability, posture and power for a stronger, healthier body. This is great for sport or exercise, but also in everyday life, and long into old age.
6 killer core strength exercises
These core exercises can be done with minimal equipment at home or in the gym. Remember, for the best results, these are subtle, slow and controlled movements. There’s no point doing a 10 minute focused abs routine if you’re not feeling your core muscles working on every single rep.
It’s really tempting to go really fast to get them over and done with, but this isn’t HIIT training. Stay focused, slow down, and try not to use any other muscles so you can really feel your core working.
For each exercise go for a time period (20, 30 or 40+ seconds), or sets and reps (8-12 x 3 sets or more if you feel able!)
1. Plank walkouts
If you’ve done a plank before, the plank walkout is a great step up to build stability and balance.
Get into the straight arm plank position with your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Keeping your body straight and abs switched on, slowly walk your hands out in front of you for four or five steps, and back in again, repeating for 20-30 seconds each set. Be careful not to raise or tilt your hips and keep your core engaged.
Top tip: The further you ‘walk’ out, the more challenging it becomes, so you can start off with one or two at first then build up as you get used to it.
2. Hip Raise
This is similar to a leg raise but using just the hips!
Lie on the floor with your legs raised 90 degrees and hands slightly underneath you for support. As you raise and lower your hips to the ceiling, focus on squeezing your lower abs to engage your core. It should feel like you’re tilting your pelvis (or tucking your ‘tail bone’ in) to achieve the hip raise.
Top tip: The slower you go, the easier it’ll be to engage your core. Don’t let your bum ‘slam’ down again, keep shoulders back and midsection engaged!
Lie on the floor with your legs raised and knees bent (as if you’re sitting on a chair). Place your hands slightly underneath you for support, and slowly raise and lower your legs, lightly tapping your feet on the ground each time.
Move each leg nice and slow, and remember to squeeze your abs on every rep!
Top tip: Tilt your pelvis towards you to engage your lower abs. Imagine you’re pulling your ribcage towards your hips.
4. Wedged Crunch
Lie on the floor and place your hands underneath your lower back in a ‘wedge’. Without using your hands to help, peel yourself up into a crunch and squeeze your abs at the top before slowly lowering back down.
Top tip: Relax your neck or shoulders and really focus on the stomach muscles to do the work!
5. Advanced Plank (Knee to Elbow)
This is another great upgrade of the standard plank and really engages the whole of your abdominals.
Get into the plank position either on the floor or for the more advanced version, with your legs raised on a step or sofa. Make sure your hands are directly beneath your shoulders and slowly bring your knee into your elbow on the same side.
Top tip: For maximum stability, squeeze your shoulders back and don’t let your hips dip or raise when your knee touches the elbow.
6. Pallof Press
If you’ve got a resistance band and something really sturdy to anchor it to, this is a great core strength exercise to build stability at home or in the gym.
Kneeling or standing level with the resistance band anchor point, move away until you feel tension. With your elbows bent and the band hugged in towards your chest, push your hands away and straighten your arms slowly, before bringing them back in again.
Top tip: Keep your shoulders back and core tight as you push your arms out, and control on the way back in!
If you’re training regularly, try to build these bodyweight core exercises into your schedule each week. The main thing to remember is to just focus on the basics, and do them well, consistently. Make sure you can feel your abdominal muscles working when you’re doing your core strength exercises, and remember: go slow, it’s not a race!
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