How to Fire Up and Strengthen Your Core

How to Fire Up and Strengthen Your Core

"Training the core" is one of the hottest concepts in fitness. Unfortunately, there's a lot of misinformation about how to do it. For example, doing a few sets of crunches or taking a plank challenge on social media isn't the most efficient way to train your core. It's time to learn exactly what makes up your core so you can condition it correctly.

Your core is made up of several groups of abdominal muscles: lower back, hips, diaphragm and pelvic floor. These muscles work together to stabilize the spine, creating a strong foundation. Your core transmits power generated by your hips to your upper body and extremities.

The benefits of a conditioned core: Healthy back
Improved posture
Better mobility
Improve athleticism
Ability to prevent injury

The steps to achieve a conditioned core:

Condition your core with a hardstyle plank.

1. Breathe

The first step in learning to properly train your core is to make sure you breathe correctly and activate the right muscles. Practice "diaphragmatic breathing" by inhaling and filling the belly and ribcage with air. When you exhale, bring your navel to your spine by engaging your pelvic floor muscles and tightening your abs slightly. It's important to maintain this core contraction not only when you perform core exercises, but also when you lift weights. This will ensure that you are strengthening the muscles according to the way they were designed.

2. Strength Train

When you strength train with the right technique, you incorporate all of your core muscles. A total-body strength program, in addition to core exercises, will increase your health benefits with a stronger, healthier body.

Try these moves that incorporate all of your core muscles:

Condition your core with a hardstyle plank.

3. Hardstyle Plank

This is a more effective variation to the standard plank taught by famed fitness instructor/trainer Pavel Tsatsouline. Assume a standard plank position with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders, feet together and back straight.

Brace your abdominals as if you were expecting a punch to the stomach. Tighten your glutes as if you were pinching a coin between the cheeks. Tighten your quadriceps by pulling up your kneecaps. Pull your elbows down hard towards your feet by engaging your lats.

If done properly, this should result in a high amount of tension in the body. You can have your training partner try to move you in several directions to try to test your ability to maintain this tension. As opposed to the traditional plank that can be held for very long periods of time, this version can only be held for 10 to 30 seconds. Perform six sets of 10 seconds on and five seconds off.

4. Stir the Pot

Assume a plank position with your elbows resting on a stability ball and your hands together.

Your feet can be positioned a little wider than hip width when doing this exercise. Moving only from your shoulders, move your arms in a circular motion clockwise. Return to the starting position, pause and then repeat the motion counterclockwise.

Make this exercise more challenging by bringing the feet together. Perform for 30 seconds to one minute, rest and repeat three times.

5. Glute Bridge on Stability Ball

Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees and your heels on top of a stability ball. Make sure your feet are together and your knees are touching. Raise your hips up by squeezing your glutes. Hold for one second at the top, then return to starting position. Perform 12 to 15 repetitions three times.

6. Reverse Back Extension on Stability Ball

Lie facedown on top of the stability ball and place your hands in front of you on the floor. Your hips should be at the center of the stability ball. With your feet together, raise your legs until they are in line with your back by squeezing your glutes. Try not to go any higher than your back by hyperextending. Slowly lower your legs back down to touch feet to floor and repeat. Perform 12 to 15 repetitions three times.

Watch the video to see all the moves:

Readers -- What core exercises do you perform as part of your workout? Have you tried any of the moves mentioned above? How often do you incorporate core exercises in your workout? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Lisa Reed, M.S., CSCS, is a USA Fitness Champion, IFBB Pro, personal trainer, educator and motivator. She is also the owner of Lisa Reed Fitness, LLC, where she leads a team of in-home personal trainers in the Washington, D.C., area. Lisa and her team design online fitness and nutrition programs for clients around the world. She has trained hundreds of elite and professional athletes, including tennis player Monica Seles. She was the first female strength coach at the United States Naval Academy and trained top athletes as a strength coach at the University of Florida.