How to Strengthen your Core
It is commonly understood that the simplest way to strengthen your core is by doing lots of reps of ‘Crunches’, or Sit-ups. (Bear in mind that if you’re aiming to strengthen your core on the way to developing a six-pack, you’ll also need to lose fat around your mid-section, which means watching your diet, regardless of how much training you do.)
What’s the difference between Crunches and Sit-ups?
Crunches are executed by lying on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat of the floor and your hands behind your head (at least, that’s how it’s usually shown, but you could have your hands on on your chest).
With your head horizontal, you start to raise your head and top part of your body. This should be done slowly in a controlled manner, not jerking. As you do so, you will feel your abdominal muscles engage. Try to keep your head and spine reasonably aligned – that is, don’t just poke your head forward.
When you have raised your upper body as far as you can without engaging other muscles,, start to lower your head again slowly back to horizontal.
Because you’re only raising and lowering your head and chest, crunches are sometimes called half sit-ups.
To raise all of your upper body to an upright seated position (hence the name ‘sit-ups’), you will also probably need to engage hip flexors and back and neck muscles. If you have any issues with your neck or back, it would therefore be advisable to stick to crunches,
It is harder to do sit-ups without your feet kicking up so you may find it helpful to anchor your feet under a stable piece of furniture, or have a training partner hold your ankles. Alternatively, if there are two of you, you can sit facing your partner, entwine your lower legs. Doing your sit-ups at the same time you can use each other to stabilise your feet.
When that becomes too easy, you could try adding the following variations:
- holding a couple of weights
- raising your feet a couple of inches/few centimetres off the ground
- instead of sitting up straight, you can try twisting to each side
Use of Core Training Equipment
If you’re just doing crunches or sit-ups on the floor, having a good quality yoga-style mat will make it more comfortable.
Using certain pieces of equipment can help intensify the core-strengthening exercises and/or make them more enjoyable or, at least, slightly easier to accomplish without reducing the intensity.
Doing sit-ups on an inclined sit-up bench, if you have one, can make it more intensive – the steeper the inclination (with your head further down), the harder it is.
Similarly, sitting on a swiss ball instead of the floor can add an element of instability. Pilates exercises, which focus a lot on developing core strength, often makes good use of swiss balls.
Another fairly inexpensive piece of equipment which help provide variation is a roll-out wheel. With these, you start from a kneeling position, engage your abs then, holding onto the handles either side of the wheel, slowly roll the wheel away from you without letting your back lumbar spine ‘sink’. Start with a short distance, roll out and roll back slowly.
See how your abs feel the next day and if they don’t ache too much, try going a bit further.
If you really like the roller wheel method and are prepared to spend a bit more, you could take a look at the Perfect Fitness Ab Carver Pro which is the no.1 top-selling core trainer, of any type, on Amazon.com.
Next up is a kind of metal frame used with sit-ups and crunches and these come in various designs. Basically, you rest you head on the padded head rest and push on the frame to enable crunches.
Specialist Core Training Equipment
Spending a bit more, we come to slightly more sophisticated equipment, both called Wonder Core.
The first, and much smaller, though not much cheaper, one is the
This is another crunch / sit-up aid consisting of a base on which you sit (when doing sit-ups anyway) and a split back rest which is sprung to promote engagement of abdominal muscles in both ascending and descending phases.
The springs are adjustable and by sitting in different positions and using the arms or legs pushing against the sprung arms of the back rest, at least 6 different exercises are possible.
Though not cheap, this is the most popular core trainer on Amazon at the time of writing, and is compact enough to use and store in a small room.
Wonder Core 2
This versatile piece of equipment claims to be a 12 in 1 machine, including a rowing attachment. The back rest lowers beyond the horizontal and the seat can twist to enable targeting the obliques.
The various different exercises available with the Wonder Core 2 means it’s not just your abs you can target but your whole core (see this post for the difference between abs and core), plus your arms (biceps, triceps), chest, shoulders, glutes and calves..
WonderCore II’s durable steel construction can support up to 265 lbs (120 kg).
It might use a bit more floor space in use than the Thane Wonder Core but it does fold up for storage so, if you’ve got the space to use it, it also seems like good value at only £10 more than the Thane.
Best Core Training Methods – Conclusion
Having a strong core is important for your health, sense of well-being and can help your self-image if you combine it with a good diet and some cardio-training too. You can do quite a bit without any equipment but sometimes we need a little help and there is now a good range of products on the market to give it to us.