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How to Strengthen Your Core Without Crunches

Updated: Apr 23, 2023


A group men and women do crunches during a fitness class at the gym
There are better alternatives to crunches


Most people think core strength means having perfectly toned 6-pack abs. However, you may be surprised to find that much more goes into having a strong core than just having toned abs.


So what does it mean to have a strong core? Why is it important? Are ab workouts the only efficient way to build strong core muscles? Let’s find out!


What is Your Core?

First, let’s clarify one important thing when it comes to core strength. The core muscles are not just your stomach muscles. Your core strength encompasses a lot of different areas of the body. All of the muscles surrounding the midsection make up the core. So yes, that includes the abdominal muscles, but also your obliques at the side of the torso, lower back, pelvic floor, and even your diaphragm!


Now that we understand a bit more about core anatomy, it’s important we understand the powerful effect our core strength has on our overall health.


Why Core Strength is So Important


A solid core is the foundation (or powerhouse) of our body and of all our daily activities.


We become more prone to lower back pain and injuries when we have weak core muscles. If our support system can’t meet the demands of daily activities such as household chores, lawn mowing, gardening, or exercising, we will be in pain. As a result, we become less active, and simple daily activities can really start to take a physical toll on us.


Our core muscles also have a direct impact on our posture. When we exert ourselves, for example, when exercising, we begin to breathe heavier. But in order for our lungs to have room to expand, we need to have a proper posture so that we can breathe easily. We can’t do this if we are always slouching, and “weak core muscles contribute to slouching.” (Harvard Health Medical School)


The Benefits of Core Strength


What are the benefits of core strengthening? Let’s look into a few of them…


Improved Balance and Flexibility

If you think about it, your core actually has a stabilizing effect on your entire body! The fact that you are able to turn your body in any direction as well as simply standing up without losing your balance is all thanks to your core muscles! As we age, it’s even more important to focus on improving balance and flexibility as these capacities do begin to decrease. That is why core strengthening exercises are recommended for all and every age range.


Better Posture

Let’s be honest. Most of us today suffer from pretty poor posture. Staring down at our phones and sitting in front of a computer for hours on end definitely doesn’t help the situation. That’s where core stabilizing exercises can help.


There are even simple standing, sitting, and reaching stretches that can be done to improve core strength (but we will get more into that shortly!)


Reduce and Prevent Pain and Injuries

Research has shown a direct link between weakened core muscles and back pain and injuries. Everyday activities such as bending, twisting, reaching, and lifting all require a strong core. When these become difficult and painful because of a back injury, you will most likely be prescribed physical therapy sessions focusing on core strengthening. So why not prevent such injuries by doing simple exercises at home regularly? Our one-on-one coaching is a great place to start!


We’ve talked about all the benefits of core strengthening and how it impacts so many aspects of our body.


You are ready at this point to get started with some core strengthening exercises!


But before you get into your sit-up position and start on those crunches, let’s take a moment to make wise choices when it comes to the type of core exercises we choose to do.


Why Crunches are NOT the Most Effective


When building muscle and core strength, exercises such as crunches come to mind. However, they actually may not be the most effective way and, unfortunately, can cause serious damage to your back and neck if not done properly.


This is because many people tend to perform this exercise way too quickly, increasing stress on the lower back and pulling up on their heads and necks with their hands rather than engaging their core muscles.


Even straight-leg sit-ups don’t target areas of the body very well when it comes to core muscles. In fact, traditional crunches or pushups can put unnecessary pressure on the abdomen and push against the pelvic floor leading to serious conditions such as a prolapsed bladder or uterus. So it’s vital that you learn to strengthen your core correctly and avoid these severe injuries. Let’s workout smarter to strengthen your core!


Safe and Effective Exercises to Strengthen Your Core


There are better and safer ways to go about strengthening those core muscles. Let’s get into a few of these proven and safe exercises you can try at home!


Planks


Whether you do the standard plank or the easier forearm plank, this exercise will really engage those core muscles! Start by putting your forearms or hands directly under your shoulder, as if doing a push-up. Ground your toes into the floor, align your head with the rest of your back, and hold for 20 seconds. Don’t forget to breathe!


Bird Dog (or Quadruped)


A basic and straightforward exercise. Start on your hands and knees, keeping your back flat. Engage your core. Then slowly begin to lift one hand and the opposite leg at the same time. Be careful not to twist your spine—alternate sides. You can do between 5-10 repetitions. This simple exercise can improve stability while strengthening back muscles. For more of a challenge, try it with a resistance band!


Bridge Hold


This exercise supports the spine while also working those glutes! To begin, lie flat on your back, bend your knees, and slowly lift your hips to the ceiling while squeezing the glutes. You can hold for 30 seconds to begin, working your way to one minute.


Other Great Ways to Strengthen Your Core


There are many other easy ways to incorporate core exercises into your daily routine that can be fun! Dancing, cycling, brisk walking, jump roping, and even hula hoops can help build core muscles.


Of course, if your main goal is to get those perfectly toned abs, it’s essential to focus on trimming body fat through a healthy diet, some cardio exercises, and frequent strength exercise sessions.


We know each health and lifestyle journey is unique. That is why TeamArodFitness is here to help you with tailored, 1:1 coaching for nutrition and training.

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