If you think of a strong core on a woman, odds are that a firm and toned stomach comes to mind. And while this may be an indicator, having a strong core means much more than just toned abs.
Your “core” is what stabilizes, supports, protects, and moves your spine. This includes the muscles between your diaphragm and pelvic floor, including the:
- rectus abdominis
- erector spinae
- internal and external obliques
- tranverse abdominis
Your glutes, hips, and latissimus dorsi can be preferentially included, too.
Having a strong core not only makes daily tasks easier, it lessens your chance of injury and increases mobility, balance, and posture.
Use these 14 tips to increase core strength and health.
1. Break out of the “crunch” mentality
Crunches aren’t the only exercise that will strengthen your core. They only hit your abs. Incorporate other exercises that require spine stabilization as well to ensure you’re working all of the muscles in this region.
2. Add planks to your routine
Planks are a deceivingly simple exercise to perform, but they require a large amount of core strength and stability to execute correctly and for extended periods of time. To perform, get in a pushup position and lower your body to your forearms, keeping your shoulders directly above your elbows and the rest of your body in a straight line.
To maintain a plank position, you’ll have to squeeze your abdominal and glute muscles to prevent your core and lower body from drooping.
3. Try Pilates
The foundation of Pilates, which is a workout of low-impact flexibility, muscular strength, and endurance movements, is core strength and activation. “The 100,” which is at the heart of every Pilates practice, requires your legs to be in a tabletop position or directly out in front so your body forms a V, while pulsing your arms and holding the exercise for a 100 count.
4. Lift weights
Added resistance requires your core muscles to work even harder to hold your spine in a stable and strong position. Exercises like weighted squats, overhead presses, and deadlifts will do the trick.
5. Watch calories and water intake
You can exercise your core muscles all you want, but if your body fat isn’t below a certain level, you won’t see any of them. Figure out how many calories you should consume to maintain a healthy weight. It’s also important to drink enough water, which is about 11 cups for women, according to the Institute of Medicine.
Your back, abs, and hips are all engaged when you swim. It’s a great low-impact resistance workout that works these muscles in a unique way.
7. Do yoga
Almost all of yoga’s postures and poses require core engagement. Examples for beginners include Chair Pose and Warrior Pose.
8. Add plyometrics
Explosive jumping movements, plyometrics, require significant core stability. With the amount of force your muscles will exert over a short period of time with exercises like tuck jumps, long jumps, and burpees, the core must be engaged and stable. Plyometric can help strengthen your core, but you must also have a strong core to do plyometrics correctly.
9. Try this quick ab routine daily
Complete 15 reps of each exercise back to back:
- scissor kick
- side plank
10. Purposefully engage your core muscles with every exercise
There’s greater activation of a certain muscle when people are instructed to focus internal attention on it during an exercise.
This is commonly referred to as the “muscle-mind connection.” For example, if you were holding a plank, focusing, and feeling your rectus abdominis, obliques, and deltoids engage, it should create even more muscle activation.
11. Sit on a stability ball
If you sit at a desk all day, consider swapping out your chair for a stability ball.
When you sit on a ball instead of a chair, it forces you to continually engage your core for balance, which increases strength, as opposed to a chair, which literally holds you up. Another stability ball benefit? It promotes better posture.
12. Consume enough protein
Exercises will help you strengthen your core, but you’ll also need enough protein to enable muscle growth.
The recommended daily allowance of protein is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. That means for a 140-pound woman, about 51 grams of daily protein will be sufficient. Older women and people who consistently lift heavy weights may require more.
13. Cut down on processed food
Swapping out processed foods for whole foods will encourage a healthy physique. Whole foods are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals and will fill you up much faster than processed options, plus encourage healthier digestion, which means less bloat and a firmer stomach.
A strong core is bolstered by a flexible body. Participating in five to 10 minutes of stretching a day can increase blood flow, reduce back pain, and improve posture.