There seems to be a common misconception about what “core strength” really is. People throw the term around and regularly schedule “ab day” into their routine. They act as if doing a bunch of situps will give them the abs they’ve been chasing and the physical balance needed to be healthy. The reality is, core strength entails so much more.
As a society, we love the idea of six-pack abs. But most people don’t realize your lower back and glutes are as much a part of your core as your abs are. And you need balance. You can’t have incredibly strong abs with a weak lower back and glutes or your abs will overpower them daily, pulling your hips out of alignment and leaving you with lower back pain.
If you want truly balanced core strength, here are a few exercises you should add to your routine. Demo videos are readily available of each online.
Kettlebell Swing — The Kettlebell Swing is a move I bring up time and time again because of its unmatched ability to isolate the glutes and hamstrings in a manner than generates raw power. It strengthens both of those muscles as well as your lower back and abs. When swinging a kettlebell, focus on explosively driving your hips to propel the weight up, not swinging with your arms. Maintain a flat back throughout the swing, standing tall and squeezing your butt at the top.
Superman Hold — The Superman Hold engages glutes, hamstrings, lower back and even calves as rest on your hips and support your body weight via your posterior chain. Point your toes and pull your feet and chest away from the ground for maximum compression. Add a row of the elbows toward your ribs and a squeeze of the shoulder blades to make the move even more dynamic.
Romanian Deadlift — Created by a Roman general as a technique to literally “lift the dead” and remove them from the battlefield, deadlifts are a fantastic way to develop strength in the glutes and lower back. Romanian deadlifts in particular, target the lower back more than a traditional deadlift because your legs are straighter through the entire move. Keep your eyes up, your back flat and squeeze your shoulder blades together to keep your shoulders from rolling forward. Keep your weight in your heels to maximize the integrity of your lower back. Squeeze your butt throughout the lift.
Swimmers — Like the superman, swimmers are designed to strengthen the majority of the muscles in your lower back by forcing them to fire to keep your hands and feet off the floor when lying in a prone position. But the swimmer is a bit more dynamic because your arms and legs are in constant motion. Opposite arms and legs should be moving at the same time. Point your toes and focus on the extension of your arms and legs, keeping them as straight as possible and making sure you kick from your glutes and hips rather than your knees.
Speed Skaters — The speed skater is unique because it engages not just your glutes, hips and back, but also your abs. Not to mention your quads and calves. Speed skaters build strength around your knees, ankles and hips while also developing stability and balance. The move essentially requires you to fire numerous muscles in your core as you bound side to side, changing direction. For a more explosive speed skater, try to cover at least four feet of distance with each bound and only plant one foot on the ground at a time. Use your abs and an arm swing to maximize your power on each skater.
Fitness is about balance, and core strength is no exception. We can’t just be strong on the front side of our bodies. We need balanced strength through our posterior as well. When we develop that true core strength, we’ll find our bodies feel better, we’ll be healthier and we become better athletes.