Do you have low back pain? “You should work the core.” Do you have knee pain? “You need to strengthen the core.” Do you want to improve in your sports? Well… “You need to focus on your core workout.”
The core has become the go-to answer to whatever fitness-sports injury and non-injury related body issue you may have. Yet the core workout Rx is not just overused, the core definition itself has taken different meanings. For some, the core is another way to say the abdominals, while for others it compromises the lumbo-pelvic hip complex—a broad spectrum from the spine, abdominals, hip muscles, to the pelvic floor muscles.
Researchers tend to focus on the second description, which illustrates more than 29 pairs of muscles working to stabilize the spine, pelvis, and hips during any body movement. As you can imagine, with the core being an integral link between the upper and lower body, it is no surprise that lack of core strength can cause adverse loading of the joints, waste of muscle energy, underperformance, and muscle imbalance contributor.
Work the Core
However, the common advice “you need to work the core” is not the magic fix to many fitness-sports plateau and/or injuries. True, research shows that a stronger core can help you be fitter and healthier, but not all core exercises provide the same results.
Here you have some of the latest studies on what you may or may not expect to get from struggling to hold a perfect plank:
1. Do not expect performance enhancement
Leg strength, agility, and dynamic knee loading are among some of the fitness components that anyone who practices sports wants to improve for greater performance in her or his sports. Many believe that incorporating core exercises in addition to resistance training exercise is the perfect combo to boost your performance.
A study from Ohio State University in which subjects were assigned to either a resistance training (RT) only, or a combo of RT and core exercises showed that the latter improved only core endurance—but did not show improvements on lower body athletic components.
Do not think core exercises are not worth the effort either—the muscles that compromise the core will have more endurance and strength. Instead, you may need to incorporate specific exercises that work the core the same way you tax them in your sports. For instance, if you play tennis you may get more from your bang doing walking lunges with arms rotations than holding a plank.
2. Upper body exercises perks
Planks may not be the only way to strengthen the abdominal and lumbar muscles. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that standing upper body exercises while the pelvis is fixed—particularly unilateral exercises like front or side shoulder raises—and by changing both, the position of the arm (diagonal, front, side, etc.) and the direction of the movement (pushing versus pulling), elicit the abdominals and lumbar muscles more than to trunk isometric exercises. This is when you perform an exercise in which you exert force but do not move the body, such as the plank or side plank.
3. Bring in the legs
In another study, in which core exercises that integrate the shoulders and the glutes, like the mountain climber, were compared with isolated core exercises, such as oblique crunch, back extension, among others, the first one showed a higher abdominal and back activation than the isolated exercises. They also challenged the side abdominal muscles to up to 200% more.
The upside to this type of workout is you strengthen the glutes too. Indeed, some studies prove that when doing a squat or lunge while rotating the torso, you challenge the glutes 50 percent more. (Scroll down to see the exercises that were included in this study.)
4. Faster recovery
After a tough cardio session, your best move is to keep your body moving to rush the clearance of the metabolic inflammatory muscle by-products, which can ignite next-day muscle soreness.
Usually, some light cardio activity and stretching is advised. However, doing some core stabilization exercises—like hip bridges, planks and back extensions—5 minutes after cardio may help to remove lactate and other by products faster than doing nothing, according to the Western Kentucky University.
Integration core workout routine
Want to be part of the study that showed the best core integration exercises? Here are the four exercises that taxed the most the abdominals, lumbar, and glutes muscles.
Towel front arm rich: In a plank straight-arm position, place your hands flat on top of two towels. Keep the back straight and hip tights while you move one arm to the front. Return to the initial position and repeat with the other side. This counts as one repetition. Do 12 reps total. Repeat two times.
Side plank with leg lift: In a side plank position, raise your non-supporting hand straight and align with the shoulders. Maintain tight abdominals and glutes while you lift one leg. Keep the position still for the time indicated. Begin with 15 seconds each side up to 45 seconds. Repeat three times total.
Towel mountain climber : In a plank straight-arm position, place your toes on a towel. Keep the back straight and hips tight. Using only your abdominals, bring one leg to the opposite arm. Repeat to the other side. This is one rep. Do 15 reps total. Repeat two times.
Pointer with resistance band (not shown with RB): In a quadrupedal stance with both hands and knees on the floor, contract your glutes and raise one leg as you lift the opposite arm. Maintain a straight torso at all times. The tubing or resistance band should be held in a sturdy place. Put the foot in the handle so you have resistance when lifting the leg. Do 12 reps per side. Repeat two times.