When you think of a strong core, you might picture a pair of six-pack abs, but a six-pack can limit your flexibility and freedom of movement. The excessive number of crunches and sit-ups you do to get that look can flatten the lumbar curve, weaken your spinal structure and lead to hunchback conditions.
Your core is more than just your abs. It’s made up of the muscles that run the entire length of your torso, including your spine and lower back. Sit-ups and crunches can’t work the complete group of muscles.
A strong core is important for your overall health, because the abdominal muscles hold in the organs associated with digestion, help in breathing, support the lumbar spine, align the pelvis, keep the torso upright and help flex and rotate the trunk of your body. These muscles stabilize the spine, support good posture and protect you against weight-bearing activities, which helps decrease your chance of a back injury. Core strength is also vital for improving athletic performance because power transfers from your center to your arms and legs.
Pilates and yoga feature some of the most effective core exercises. These workouts focus on strengthening your core through breath, balance and posture. You hold poses for long periods, which helps you build strength with only your body weight. Here’s an example of a pose from each to introduce you to alternatives to sit-ups.
An effective core-strengthening pose done in Pilates is the one-leg circle. In order to perform this move, lie on your back with your legs fully extended and your arms by your sides. Lift one leg toward the ceiling, keeping your hips grounded and your legs straight. Next, inhale and cross the extended leg toward the opposite hip. Exhale as you drop the leg a couple inches, staying in control and keeping your hips and shoulders flat on the ground. Sweep the leg into a small circle. Do five circles clockwise and five circles counter-clockwise with each leg.
A yoga pose that targets your core as well as your arms and thighs is the dolphin plank pose. In order to perform this move, begin with your hands and knees on the ground. Then, align your wrists so they are directly underneath your shoulders and align your knees so they are directly below your hips. Lower your elbows to the floor, keeping your forearms parallel. Next, step your feet back, and think about making your body one straight line. Tighten and draw your stomach in toward your spine. Broaden your shoulders and look between your hands. Hold this pose for five slow, smooth breaths. Release by lowering your knees to the ground. Repeat 10 times.