We all should want a stronger core. Having a stronger core produces better posture, protects against back pain, and can help reduce your overall risk for injury.
But if you think sit-ups are the answer to core strength, think again. There are many other ways to maximize an abdominal workout without mindlessly crunching up and down.
Why Not Sit-Ups?
If you think of the movement pattern of a traditional sit-up, we are moving our upper body (from our hips to our head) from a horizontal position to a vertical one. While this feels like it’s working our ab muscles, it’s not doing much by way of strengthening them.
Why? Because our core muscles are not designed for that forward flexion. It’s not an athletic position, nor is it a position you’d find yourself in naturally very often. Try to think of core muscles more as stabilizers than working muscles (like a bicep that helps picks something up). And to properly stabilize us, we rely on many different muscles in the abdominal region: upper abs, lower abs, hip flexors, obliques, and lower back. There is even a muscle that wraps around the spinal cord to help protect us against over-rotation — our physiology is truly amazing.
A simple crunch will work some of those muscles, but not in a very functional way. So why focus on just one movement to strengthen those stabilizing muscles?
Core Movements That Make The Biggest Difference
Compound movements — movements that utilize more than one muscle group at a time — are actually most helpful in developing strength in any body part. If you are looking for core-specific movements, here are a few core exercises that can actually help develop strength and stability in your core.
Vertical Leg Crunches
Vertical crunches are just what they sound like: crunches that you perform with your legs held up vertically so that they’re perpendicular to the floor. By keeping your legs up in the air (whether your legs are straight or bent at the knee), it forces more muscles to work together.
Planks are great for overall stability, and the best part is that there are so many variations to choose from! The best place to start is with both hands and feet on the floor, and if you can hold this position for 1 minute without needing a break, you can try some other variations like plank shoulder taps or toe taps.
While dead bugs may seem silly, or not challenging enough, they are a secret weapon for developing core strength and stability! You can start by moving both your hands and legs, or keeping your legs stable and just moving your arms, and vice versa. To make this one harder, you can hold a weight overhead.
Bird Dogs are like the upside-down version of a dead bug. Another silly-feeling movement that has a ton of benefits! Similar to a plank, bird dogs work on stabilizing the core while your arms and legs move.
Carrying objects is one of the most functional movements you can incorporate into your fitness routine.
Think of how you might carry a suitcase if you could not roll it: that is exactly what a suitcase carry is! You can start with a light dumbbell or kettlebell, and work your way up to carrying heavier and heavier objects in one hand on the side of your body. The key to the suitcase carry is to keep your shoulders stacked over your hips (no leaning to the other side of your body). You can stay in place, or walk for 20-30 seconds and then switch hands.
With practice, these functional ab movements (especially the vertical leg crunches) will help build tons of strength and drastically improve mobility.
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