Often when people think about their core, they automatically think abs.
To clear up a few things, it's important to note abdominal definition comes from a clean and healthy diet, and the core is much more than just your abs. Your core is your abs and lower back and hips -- think of it as your center of gravity.
Having a strong core and continually working to strengthen it is very beneficial to everyone regardless of fitness level. Sedentary jobs and life-styles can lead to a weak core with low back pain and tight hips.
This week, take time to concentrate on your core. Try these four exercises and gradually start incorporating them into your workout routine.
My favorite exercise to fully engage the core is the plank. Try as many plank variations as you can and always try to aim to hold it longer than the time before. My favorite plank variation is elbow plank as well as the elbow side plank.
When I go to the gym, after I am done doing cardio, I will grab a mat and hold a elbow plank for 30 seconds and then hold a 30 second side plank on each side. I try not to break form when switching from one variation to another and I do it as many times as I possibly can until I cannot hold myself up any longer.
Planks are very much an exercise for your mind as well, I like to challenge my body and my mind with this exercise.
Another great exercise to strengthen the core is the floor bridge. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat and hands by your side with the palms facing down. Push through your heels and lift your hips up, then tuck your hips under. This exercise also activates the ham strings and glute muscles, and you will really be able to feel it.
Mix up the tempo of these floor bridges as well as the range of motion with your hips. The more you mix it up, the more it will burn and the more effective the exercise becomes.
Ball crunches are another great core exercise that makes the regular crunch feel like a walk in the park.
Being on a stability ball challenges your core stability as well as gives you a broader range of motion for your crunch. Make sure you keep your chin up and shoulders down and away from your ears while you are crunching.
If you feel unstable put your toes up against a wall for some extra balance support. If you feel stable and need a progression, add a weight plate to your chest and hold it with your arms crossed for another awesome abdominal burn.
The last exercise that I love to do for my core is a plank step-up.
I do this exercise a lot when I am on runs and pass by a park with a bench. I hold a plank in front of the bench or step, use my hand to reach up to it, hold that position and then place my hand back on the ground -- returning to a plank.
This is very similar to step aerobics, but it just uses your hands. Make sure your hips do not rise up into the air and keep your abs tight -- do not forget to breathe. Alternate beginning with your right hand, then your left hand for 1 minute or the entire duration of your favorite and most motivating workout.
Just because you are not doing a workout specifically for your core, your core is still working during other exercises. Always think about your core and how it plays a role in each of your workouts.
Then make a conscious effort to get strong to the core and be fit for life.
Lunden Souza, a Merced native, is a personal trainer, health and wellness coach and writer in Southern California. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.