Discover more from CORE
6 Core Exercises Everyone Should Be Doing Every Day
Core - Nº11
Our core is the foundation for every movement we make. Without it, pain and discomfort would seep in and worsen as time passes. The core musculature is a series of muscles helping your body stabilise, contract, and move without pain. Simply put, it’s essential for living a long, pain-free, and healthy life.
Core training is an integral part of athletic development—and has been for decades. But it should matter to everyone. I believe it’s vital to make doing core exercise a daily habit. It can make you fitter, more resilient to fatigue, and stronger in your knees, back, and neck—which are familiar places for people to tighten and suffer injury.
Research links core training to be an integral piece of the health and fitness puzzle. It’s not clear why, as core exercise doesn’t focus on isolation—it’s more something we integrate within a comprehensive training plan to complement our everyday life.
But lacking core strength and stability causes several non-severe injuries and discomforts we often experience at some point in life (e.g. back, knee, or hip pain). For example, runners tend to suffer from weakness and dysfunction more often than other sports; there’s a considerable risk of spinal injury during a run as it’s loaded repeatedly with each step. Running requires absorption of high forces 2–3 times that of our body weight—over and over again—with every step. A weak core then negatively impacts your running biodynamics by forcing other muscles to compensate.
The more you force the wrong muscles to bear heavy loads during exercise or even when sitting, and the less you work on those weaknesses, the tighter or lazier your muscles and tendons become. And the more likely you are to get injured.
What is the Core?
Your core is everything between your hips and shoulders—something we develop from around three months old.
We’ve all seen six-pack abs and the subsequent rave for them. But, just because someone has a glowing set of chiselled abs, it doesn’t mean they have good core strength and never get back pain.
Far from it.
The six-pack (rectus abdominus) has one function: flexion of the spine, which means bending forwards. Sit-ups only get you so far, and it’s not a healthy movement to do in the first place.
Core training used to be “Abdominal training” in the 90s. But our knowledge of what core training means has improved significantly since then.
Your core protects your spine in three ways:
It bears, or transfers, all forces from an impact between one extremity and another. It can initiate movement itself, but its job is to prevent dysfunctional and poor-quality movement. A weak core with poor neuromuscular control causes poor movement patterns — and thereby consistent patterns of injury.
Your core moves in three dimensions called planes of motion:
The sagittal plane: forward and backwards, e.g. Squats.
The Frontal Plane: side to side, e.g. Side Lunges
The Transverse Plane: Rotational, e.g. Russian Twists
Pushing yourself in any of these directions for long periods of time is what causes pain.
Most daily movements are done on the sagittal plane — and that’s the problem. As human beings, we’re not supposed to move in one dimension; we’re supposed to move in three. But the way we live today (sitting in an office, sitting in traffic, sitting on the sofa, lying in bed) hurts our capacity to stay flexible and move without pain.
It doesn’t matter what age you are. You should be able to move freely, without pain or ache. Core training helps you to do that.
Why Core Training Matters
I suffered for years with patellofemoral pain (inflammation around the knee that hurts when bending or climbing stairs). I had back pain from a young age as a junior athlete and throughout my teenage life.
This problem came from overusing my muscles with the plethora of sports I partook in, and it created ongoing pain, which usually worsened I walked on inclines or put constant pressure through my knees or back.
I discovered core training years later, and It taught me to focus more on my glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps than my abs. With a physiotherapist’s help, I composed a programme integrating short exercises that alleviated my issues. It completely healed my pain in a little over a month.
How to Train Your Core Correctly
If you’ve visited a physiotherapist, you’ll notice that core training is almost always what they recommend.
Your core’s responsibility is to keep you stable when you move and divert energy from crucial body parts. Core muscles are not prime movers, which means if you always used your low back to induct movement when you walked or climbed stairs, as I did, they wouldn’t cope with the forces and, eventually, you’ll succumb to the pain.
People treat their core by focusing on pure isolation, such as doing sit-ups and crunches. These exercises alone don’t pose great benefits. But as part of a comprehensive programme, they can work.
There are three types of core exercises:
Stabilisation: static exercises with minimal movement (e.g. planks).
Dynamic Stabilisation: stability exercises that replicate everyday movement (e.g. lifting your arms without curving your back).
Integrated Stabilisation: full-body activities (e.g. sports, or even carrying groceries from your car to the house).
There are also five essential elements of core training:
Without motor control and function, the other three elements are useless. You could be the strongest fish in the pond, with the very best endurance, but once you’re out of the water, flapping about, you won’t get very far.
The 6 Core Exercises
The staple of good core stability is an excellent ability to inhibit poor movement.
You don’t need to think about much during these exercises. Focus on keeping your stomach tight and controlling your breathing. The literature is still inconclusive, and therefore, you should focus on getting familiar and consistent with proven exercises that work, like the ones below.
1. Glute Bridge (anti-extension)
Not only does this improve your posture, but it also lessens low back pain and helps you perform your everyday activities with less fatigue. When you spend a lot of your day sitting, your glute muscles can loosen — or weaken — while your hip flexors get shorter as they tighten. Over time, this can cause slouching and pain around the upper back and neck.
2. Plank (anti-extension)
The plank is a solid anti-extension exercise that teaches you to maintain good posture. Focus on maintaining a straight line — from your shoulders to your ankles. Squeeze your glute muscles slightly and resist the temptation to lift your hips for relieving tension. To make it easier, place your forearms on an incline and work your way towards ground level.
3. Dead Bug (anti-extension)
Keep your back firmly pressed against the ground, resisting any extension of your lower back. Extend your opposite arm and leg in a slow and controlled manner. To make it easier, keep your knee bent or bend at the elbow. You could also try moving your legs only as your starting point.
4. Fire Hydrant (anti-rotation)
Fire hydrants work to strengthen the glute medius — the outer glute muscle that stabilises and supports your knee. It is one of the most effective exercises for fixing knee pain. Focus on keeping your back flat as you bring your leg to almost parallel to the ground.
5. Superman (anti-extension)
The Superman exercise will help strengthen your glutes and the back muscles. The key is to engage your glutes and lower back muscles simultaneously, as you don’t want to rely too much on either.
6. Bird Dog (anti-rotation)
This bird-dog promotes stability in surrounding joints. Aim for as little movement as possible in this exercise. The key is to prevent your back from bending and holding a good posture. As you slowly extend the opposite arm and leg simultaneously, try to resist rotating. You can try placing a light dumbbell, water bottle, or foam roller on your back as feedback: try to keep it from falling off. To make it easier, extend your arm or leg individually.
Something to remember
It’s in your interest to carry out core training each day to help you move and live without pain — and prevent any future pain from arising. In the long term, it’s best for everyone to create a habit of regular core training, whether in the morning, during a work break, or before bed.
Much like an exercise in general, it’s all about the long game. Commit to exercising for the long term benefits. It’s a lifelong journey of continuous improvement, and you should always see it that way. Take your time. Ramp up slowly. And your body will thank you for countless years.
I’ve written a 51-page eBook with 30+ core exercises that will improve your posture and strength while minimising injury. Check it out here.
Thanks for reading Health Mastery - by Joxen! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.