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5 Core Exercises That Are Better Than Crunches

Do you get occasional back pain? Do you want to improve your posture? Or maybe you just want to improve your current training routine. Whatever your reason for wanting to improve your core, the benefits are plentiful. Your core muscles are always turned on and help you with every movement you make throughout the day, from the moment you get out of bed in the morning until you lay down at night. Your core also acts as a protector for your abdominal and pelvic organs and spine, as this area of your body has the least amount of bone protection. A strong core can also aid with injury prevention, in both routine daily activities and focused physical activities.

Why do people do crunches?

Crunches and sit-ups are great exercises for obtaining the coveted “6-pack abs” and target the rectus abdominis muscles in the front of your stomach. However, the rectus muscles are not the only core muscles you have and crunches and sit-ups don’t effectively target the other core muscles. Your core is actually made up of a group of muscles in the front, back, top, and bottom of your stomach, each having a left and a right corresponding muscle on either side of your body. The core muscles are layered and each muscle has a different function and provides a different movement ability. The core muscles form a cylinder shape that can be compared to a soda can. All the muscles of the core need to be strong and stable in order for the “can” to remain full, however, if there is any weakness, the “can” will collapse creating decreased core strength and stability. The four sections of the core that make up the “can” are:

Muscles and bones of the trunk 

Muscles and bones of the trunk: five ecorche figures showing front and back views of the torso. Watercolour by A. Mongredien, ca. 1880.
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Original public domain image from Wellcome Collection

 

So if you want a strong core, you need to do specific exercises that target all of the core muscles, not just the rectus muscles. Functional core training exercises target all of the core muscles and increase both the strength and stability of your core muscles. Prior to doing core exercises, you need to know how to properly ENGAGE YOUR CORE. To check your core engagement, start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, then place a hand under your low back and press your low back into your hand by contracting your core muscles. Try this same movement without your hand under your back so your back is firmly against the floor, making sure that your ribs are pulling down towards your belly button and you can breathe normally.
Once you are confident you can properly ENGAGE YOUR CORE, try these 5 exercises that will target all of the muscles of your core. Make sure you are properly engaging your core muscles during each exercise and stop to take a rest break if you lose your core engagement. Core exercises should be performed 2-3 times per week and include 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions of each exercise.

1 Dead Bug

Start by lying on your back with your knees and hips bent to 90 degrees. ENGAGE YOUR CORE. Hold this position and slowly straighten out one leg and the opposite arm away from you without letting them touch the floor. Do not allow your low back, or chest, to arch up during the movement. Return to the starting position and then repeat on the opposite side.

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2 Superman

Start by lying face down on the floor with your legs and arms out straight. ENGAGE YOUR CORE. Lift your arms and legs off the floor, hold for a few seconds, then lower them down and repeat.

3 Plank

Start on your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders, with your fingers spread out and your elbow creases facing forward. Keep your chest open and your head in line with your spine. Your shoulder blades should stay flat and centered on your upper back—avoid “winging” them backwards or collapsing forward. ENGAGE YOUR CORE. Straighten your knees and put your toes down. As you hold this position, maintain neutral alignment throughout your body and keep your core engaged. Hold this position as long as you can and then slowly lower arms and legs and repeat 2 more times.

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4 Bird Dog

Start on your hands and knees with a neutral spine. ENGAGE YOUR CORE. Slowly extend the opposite arm and leg straight out and hold this position, while maintaining trunk stability, as if you are trying to balance a glass of water on your back. Return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite arm and leg.

5 Glute Bridge

Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. ENGAGE YOUR CORE. Lift your hips up so your butt comes off the floor. Hold at the top and then slowly lower your hips and repeat.

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If you find that any of these exercises are too easy, or too difficult, there are plenty of ways to make these exercises more, or less challenging. If you have any unusual pain while doing these exercises, stop and seek professional guidance, as you may not be performing the exercise correctly and are at risk for an injury.

Jessica Lott is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, living in Taipei since 2021. She is from the United States and has been living and working in Asia since 2014. Prior to living in Taiwan, she lived in Shanghai, China, where she worked as a Physical Therapist at Shanghai United Family Hospital and UP Clinic.
Jessica has experience treating various conditions and injuries and works with individuals of all ages. She is passionate about physical health, wellness, and helping people achieve their goals.

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