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Build your core muscles

Sarah Wassner Flynn is a New York City-based writer. She's contributed to magazines such as CosmoGIRL!, National Geographic Kids, Runner's World, Women's Health, Prevention and MetroSports New York. She is also the author of The Book of ...

Abs, obliques, lumbar muscles and more!

Think you can build core strength by cranking out crunches? Think again. Strengthening your core -- abdominals, obliques, lumbar muscles and other muscles -- actually involves much more than just your usual two or three sets of ab crunches. Having solid core muscles puts you at less risk for back injury and gives you a sexy midsection.

Tighten your core!

About your core muscles

The core is comprised of many muscles that wrap around your midsection, including your back, obliques and abs. Your core muscles supply about 60 percent of your body's overall power. Getting a solid core can perfect your posture, reduce your risk of back pain, trim belly fat and enhance your overall muscle strength.

DEFINING THE CORE

Exactly what – and where – is your core? A common misconception is that the core is simply made up of your abs and lower back. In truth, six-pack abs do not necessarily translate to a rock solid core. That is because the core is actually comprised of a whopping 29 muscles that connect and support the pelvis and spine. These include big ones like the rectus abdominis (also known as the six-pack or abs), lats and glutes as well as many more that are deeply buried beneath other muscles.

BENEFITS OF A STRONG CORE

All of the core muscles make a collaborative effort to stabilize and support your spine, keeping you upright, well-balanced and agile (it's no surprise, then, that pro athletes like Tiger Woods and Serena Williams claim their games have improved because of core work). Experts also say those with solid cores have less back pain and are at lower risk for future injury in that area. And by focusing on the entire core, you can stave off that dreaded spare tire around your midsection.

WORK THE CORE MUSCLES

No matter how many crunches you crank out a day, if that's all you do, you are largely ignoring the other aspects of your core – including spinal muscles.

Posture: The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that you pay special attention to your core area by perfecting your posture – which you can practice anywhere. While you are standing in line at the grocery store or plugging away at work, simply stand or sit up straight, pulling your stomach in and tightening your glutes while rising up from your lower pelvis. Other options include posture-and core-focused workouts like Pilates or yoga.

Core exercises: Repeat each of the following core exercises five times, gradually building up to 10 to 15 reps as your strength improves.

Get back to our hot weather guide - click here!Superman (strengthens your lower back):

  1. Lie on your stomach with a rolled towel or a small pillow under your hips to support your back. You might also use a folded towel to support your head.
  2. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise your right arm off the floor and hold for three deep breaths. Lower your right arm and repeat with your left arm. Raise your right leg off the floor and hold for three deep breaths. Lower your right leg and repeat with your left leg. When you get stronger, lift your right arm and left leg together, then left arm and right leg. You can also lift both arms and both legs together.

Bridge (works various core muscles in combination:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your back in a neutral position, not arched and not pressed into the floor. Avoid tilting your hips.
  2. Tighten your abdominal muscles. Raise your hips off the floor until your hips are aligned with your knees and shoulders and hold for three deep breaths. Return to the start position and repeat.

More on midsection workouts

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