Core Training for Looks & Functionality: Exercises to Build Strength & Stability

Having a relatively strong core is a necessity for anyone, whether male or female, who is engaged in a challenging fitness routine and trying to maximize their overall development. Not only can a strong core improve your appearance, but it also improve your performance across many exercises, as well as improve stability for injury prevention benefits.

Another major benefit of strengthening your core is that it allows you to move heavier poundages in your lifts. Many compound exercises recruit the core and progress in these exercises can be limited if the core is weak and unstable. There are lots of injuries that can be prevented simply by strengthening that whole region.

Definition of Core

In addition to the abdominal muscles, which include the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominus and obliques, the core region also includes the back extensors, the lower portion of the latisimus dorsi, some muscles of the spine and glutes, and more. All of these muscle work in concert to stabilize the body in all types of activity, light and intense, as well as absorb shock and indirectly protect the joints.

Preventing Injuries

By literally sharing the load of your body, strong core muscles help to counteract the effect of gravity on your joints. Moreover, as we age, these muscles provide much needed support to the pelvis, knees, ankles and shoulder, preventing them from chronically aching.

Traditional bodybuilding routines are known to cause lower back pain in many trainees, and a lot of the blame can be placed on weaknesses in the core. By training the core through the full range of motion, these weaknesses can be addressed through every phase of movement, helping the muscles to fire properly and prevent smaller muscles, joints & tendons from becoming overburdened.

Many times you see knee & ankle injuries happening while people are performing simple everyday activities! A properly stabilized, strong core can prevent a lot of this agony from happening.

Benefits of Direct Core Training

Major compound exercises do recruit the core, but directly training the core can actually help you perform better in many of these lifts, further increase stabilization, improve athletic performance and minimize the risk of injury.

Bodybuilders, powerlifters & olympic lifters stand to benefit from directly targeting their core, because as mentioned above, it can make a dramatic difference in making lifts more explosive and powerful. For bodybuilders, there are certain exercises that they can use to enhance their physique and target stubborn areas.

Another major benefit of direct core work is improving your acceleration and how efficiently you can change direction. This directly translates into better running, hitting, kicking, jumping, etc.

Core Stability Exercises

Many compound movements, such as deadlifts, squats and powercleans, heavily recruit the core and call on it to provide a tremendous amount of stability. Infact, just by performing these major exercises, you're working and targeting the core!

Single leg exercises, such as single leg squats, heavily recruit the lower back and glutes and help to increase the amount of weight that you can move with two legs. Front squats engage the transverse and rectus abdominus, so its a good idea to include both of these in your routine to maximize core stability.

Performing exercises on stability balls, doing Yoga and Pilates and incorporating balance exercises can recruit many of the "hidden" muscles that can often be the culprits of pain. A simple dumbbell press on a stability ball can provide a very stimulating challenge that fires up the core in ways that lying on a flat bench never can.

Abdominal Exercises

The philosophy behind core training is to use exercises that effectively target the entire core region. However, there are certain exercises that emphasize the abdominal region while effectively recruiting the core region as well. These exercises include:

Hanging Leg Raises
V Sit-up Holds
Decline Situps

In addition to these exercises, remember to use as many compound moves and balance exercises as possible to fully maximize core development. Not only will you have an impressive mid-section that looks great, your performance will improve in almost any type of activity you engage in...with less pain!