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Core exercises: Beyond your average abs routine
From MayoClinic.com
Special to CNN.com

Did you know that your core is where all movement in your body originates? Core exercises are an important part of overall fitness training that, except for the occasional sit-up or crunch, are often neglected.

To get your core muscles in better shape, it's important to understand what your body's core is and how you can strengthen it.

Understanding your core

Your body's core — the area around your trunk and pelvis — is where your center of gravity is located. A strong core gives you:

  • Increased protection and "bracing" for your back
  • Controlled movement
  • A more stable center of gravity
  • A more stable platform for sports movements

When you have good core stability, the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen work in harmony. They provide support to your spine for just about any activity.

A weak core can make you susceptible to poor posture, lower back pain and muscle injuries. Strong core muscles provide the brace of support needed to help prevent such pain and injury.

Strengthening your core

Core strengthening requires the regular and proper exercise of your body's 29 core muscles. Basic exercises that will enhance your core fitness include the:

  • Bridge
  • Abdominal crunch or sit-up
  • Plank
  • Quadruped

A fun alternative to your basic core strengthening regimen is to learn exercises that use a fitness ball. Balancing on these oversized, inflated balls requires that you focus on using your core muscles for support.

Getting the most from your workout

It's important to do your core exercises at least three times a week. For optimal results, remember to:

  • Choose exercises that work your core muscles simultaneously. Rather than isolate each muscle group in your trunk, the best exercises for your core are those that get muscles working together at the same time.
  • Focus on quality of movement rather than quantity. You'll gradually build up to a greater number of repetitions. When starting out, take it slow and learn how to properly perform each exercise with optimal technique.
  • Breathe steadily and slowly. Breathe freely while doing each of the exercises in your core strengthening workout. Your instinct may be to hold your breath during an exercise, but it's better to continue breathing.
  • Take a break when you need one. When your muscles get tired, stop and change exercises. And, if you work your core muscles to fatigue during an exercise session, wait at least a day between workouts to allow the muscles to recover.
  • Get help from a trained professional. Body position and alignment are crucial when performing core strengthening exercises. When you begin, it's a good idea to have a fitness trainer or physical therapist help you perfect your technique.

Keep in mind that strengthening workouts — even core strengthening — are just one part of a complete fitness program. Include aerobic exercise and flexibility training to round out your regimen.

  • Slide show: Core exercises strengthen abs and other core muscles
  • Slide show: Core exercises with a fitness ball
  • October 06, 2005

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