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Core exercises: Beyond your average abs routine

 

Core exercises strengthen your abs and other core muscles. Here's a primer on core exercises.

 

By Mayo Clinic staff

 

Core exercises are an important part of a well-rounded fitness program. Aside from the occasional sit-up or crunch, however, core exercises are often neglected.

 

So what are core exercises? And why are core exercises so important? Here's what you need to know about your core muscles - and how to get them in better shape.

 

Understanding your core

 

 

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Core muscles

 

 

Your body's core is the area around your trunk and pelvis. When you have good core stability, the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen work in harmony. Strong core muscles make it easier to do most physical activities - from swinging a golf club to getting a glass off a top shelf or bending down to tie your shoes. Weak core muscles leave you susceptible to poor posture, lower back pain and muscle injuries.

 

Enter core exercises

 

Core exercises help you strengthen your core muscles. And it doesn't take specialized equipment or an expensive gym membership to try core exercises. Any exercise that uses the trunk of your body without support counts. Think squats, push-ups and abdominal crunches.

 

Other core exercises include:

 

·  Bridge. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your back in a neutral position, not arched and not pressed into the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise your hips off the floor until your hips are aligned with your knees and shoulders. Hold for three deep breaths. Return to the start position and repeat.

 

·  Segmental rotation. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your back in a neutral position. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Keeping your shoulders on the floor, let your knees fall slowly to the left. Go only as far as is comfortable. You should feel a stretch, but no pain. Hold for three deep breaths. Return to the start position. Repeat the exercise to the right.

 

·  Quadruped. Start on your hands and knees. Place your hands directly below your shoulders, and align your head and neck with your back. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise your right arm off the floor and reach ahead. Hold for three deep breaths. Lower your right arm and repeat with your left arm. Raise your right leg off the floor. Tighten your trunk muscles for balance. Hold for three deep breaths. Lower your right leg and repeat with your left leg.

 

As a fun alternative, try core exercises with a fitness ball. Simply sitting on a fitness ball and gently bouncing works your abdominal, back and thigh muscles. Or try abdominal crunches on a fitness ball. Sit on the fitness ball with your feet resting on the floor, about hip-width apart. Keep your back straight. Cross your arms on your chest. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Lean back until your abdominal muscles kick in. Hold for three deep breaths. Return to the start position and repeat.

 

Getting the most from your workout

 

Do your core exercises at least three times a week, including them as part of your regular fitness program. For best results:

 

·  Get help from a trained professional. Body position and alignment are crucial when it comes to core exercises. When you begin, you might want to enlist a fitness trainer or physical therapist to help you perfect your technique.

 

·  Breathe steadily and slowly. Your instinct may be to hold your breath during your core exercises. Don't! It's better to breathe freely.

 

·  Focus on quality of movement rather than quantity. When starting out, take it slow. Concentrate on performing each exercise with correct technique. You'll gradually build up to a greater number of repetitions.

 

·  Take a break when you need one. If you work your core muscles to fatigue during an exercise session, wait at least a day between workouts to give your muscles time to recover.

 

Keep in mind that core exercises are just one part of a complete fitness program. Aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching are important, too. Whether you're an exercise novice taking the first steps toward fitness or a committed fitness fanatic hoping to optimize your results, a well-rounded fitness training program can help you reach your exercise goals.

 

 

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