Why is it so important to build core strength when you're working towards your fitness goals?

5 months ago 19
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If you scroll through social media, you'll see myriad workouts that are all focused on “building better abs”, “getting that elusive ab line” or “creating a six pack.” While working on the ab muscles to convert them into stronger muscles in lieu of fat is important, working up to better core strength is the actual key. It turns out that your abs aren't just one muscle that you can turn on and off as you crunch or squat. Three sets of muscles (the transverse abdominis, oblique muscles and rectus abdominis) work with the glute muscles, back muscles and leg muscles to hold you upright, maintain your posture and help you move. We spoke to Anisha Shah, master trainer at Physique 57 and fitness expert Sumaya Dalmia for their take on how important core strength is, and how you can build it safely. 

What is core strength and why is it so important?

The trunk of your body forms your core, which are the muscles of abdominals, pelvis, lower back and hips. “When people think of their core, they think of abs, but it’s important not to forget your back body strength. These other muscle groups are equally important in forming a strong core,” Shah. “The core is not just your abs or your six pack. These muscles are the stabilisers of our bodies which help us sit, stand, and do various basic activities,” confirms Dalmia. 

The core is your powerhouse. It controls our lower body strength, balance and stability. The core muscles protect our spine, our pelvis and abdomen,” says Dalmia. “This stability is a key component for successful performance of most gross motor activities, like standing and walking. Stronger core muscles help you with many simple and basic functions—like lifting something heavy, swinging a bat or carrying a child," she says.

What are the best ways to help build core strength?

Pilates and strength training is a great way to engage the abdomen muscles as it works to stabilise and build the pelvic floor as well as all muscles of the trunk. “Planks and its variations, hip ridges for your glutes, cat camel and functional training like deadlifts, burpees and jumping jacks are helpful too,” says Dalmia. “Your own body weight is the best tool. You can also use simple exercise tools like a theraband or a fitness ball,” she confirms. 

Your strength is determined by several factors and mindfully crafting your workout that targets all the muscles can help build it. “Since you are working your deeper muscles, your middle & lower body get a more lean and toned look,” she says.

How can you do core exercises with a weak back?

Core strength is what helps you complete and do an exercise, even in moves that are not particularly for the abs. For example, if your hips are sagging while doing push-ups, or your back hurts during a deadlift, you can attribute it to having a weak core. 

For many people, performing ab workouts that include bicycle crunches, planks and sit-ups can cause a sharp pain in the back muscles. However, experts say that it's the other way around—a weak back equals a weak core. “A safe, effective and efficient way to work your core is by using your body weight as resistance with proper form. Understanding one’s range of motion is extremely crucial. Start your movements with a smaller range of motion in a controlled speed. As your body adapts and builds strength you can layer bigger movements while mindfully practising the correct form,” says Shah. 

But before you go full speed ahead on an ab workout and try to work through the pain, experts suggest that you take it slow. Russian twists, leg lifts and sit-ups can cause a lot of flexion and rotation of the spine, causing more damage if done too frequently or incorrectly. Instead, plank (and variations of it) and squats are ideal to help stabilise the whole trunk at once, say both experts.

Also read:

6 ways to keep your spine and back pain-free when you sit in front of a computer all day

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5 videos that will help you try Katrina Kaif's go-to strength-building workout at home

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