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How To Improve Your Core Strength

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Core strength isn't the preserve of athletes and the gym-obsessed. A strong, stable core is vital in everyday life and for ensuring long-term health.
What you'll need: 
Loose, comfortable clothing
Foam mat
Swiss ball
Medicine ball
For many people, reference to the 'core' invokes images of chiselled abs and a six-pack you could do your laundry on. However, the core consists of far more than the superficial surface muscles. Improving core strength means strengthening not only the visible outer muscles of the abdominal and lower back regions, but also the smaller stabilising muscles within.
A strong core means stability from within. The result is improved posture, reduced chance of injury and enhancement of your body's ability to respond to the demands of both sporting and everyday movements.
Traditional core exercises include sit-ups, crunches and rotations. Though these exercises are effective and are still relevant, they are certainly not the only exercises involved in a strong, functional core.
Performing sit-ups and crunches on a Swiss ball is an excellent way to recruit the smaller stabilising muscles while still strengthening the major abdominals. Lie on the ball with your feet on the floor, legs at 90 degrees and back straight. Rest on the ball at hip level and perform sit-up or crunch motions as normal.
A medicine ball is a very useful tool when working on improving core strength. Incorporating it into your normal exercises is effective but performing sit-up rotations while holding the ball at chest level is particularly productive.
The plank and its numerous variations help to improve both core strength and core stability (the recruitment of the smaller core muscles used to stabilise the hips and spine). The plank is performed by lying on the mat, stomach down, while supporting the upper body on the forearms. Lift the body into a rigid, plank-like position and hold for 1 minute. Repeat 3 times initially.
Contraction of the abdominal muscles for a set period of time is an excellent way of improving both core strength and stability. Leg lifts and the plank are both good examples. To perform leg lifts, lie on your back on the mat with your arms tucked at your sides. Slowly lift both legs 30-40cm above the ground. Hold for 1 minute. Repeat 3 times. Leg lifts can also be performed one leg at a time.
The importance of a strong core cannot be overstressed. Core exercises are often seen as boring and are therefore neglected but they should be emphasised as part of your exercise regime.
Build up your strength slowly before attempting more complex or weighted exercises involving medicine and Swiss balls.
When performing sit-ups and crunches avoid 'pulling' yourself up by the neck or back of the head.
Perform the exercises with a partner if possible as this will aid motivation.


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