Our everyday movements — walking, reaching and even balancing – reflect the strength of our core. To build a strong foundation and ensure that other muscle groups can perform effectively, you need to start with your core. The best part is that a good core workout can fit into a busy schedule, lessen back pain and improve function of all muscles in the body.

There are two myths about good core workouts that are worth dispelling:

You have to do a zillion crunches for a strong core. Your core provides stability to your spine, creates rotation and anti-rotation as needed, and facilitates spinal flexion (like curling up into a crunch). The only time the crunching motion is used in daily life is sitting up from a horizontal position: a movement we do maybe four times a day — not enough to warrant a lot of workout time.

Working your core is not going to magically give you a flatter tummy or 6-pack abs. Fat reduction in an isolated part of your body is truly a myth. You cannot target fat reduction in a specific area with an exercise, and to reduce body fat enough for results like six-pack abs requires major work on diet and eating habits.

One of the most versatile and important core exercises is the plank, which uses multiple muscles — including the deeply set transverse abdominal muscle. This muscle acts as your inner girdle, and when it is strong, it ensures a stable spine. A variation on the plank — the side plank — does a great job focusing on the internal and external obliques (the core muscles that wrap around your sides).

The “dead bug” wins for the silliest name, but it is a very effective exercise that has us working our core muscles in an eccentric pattern: contracting the muscle while it lengthens under load — think of the muscle having to put the breaks on.

The bridge is a great core exercise because it focuses on the connecting core muscle groups like the glutes, erector spinae, hip flexors and rectus abdominus muscle, and makes them work together.

Try a good core workout to improve, posture, balance, performance, endurance and lessen low back pain. It really is at the center of any well-rounded routine. 

Kimberly Z. Miller, director of Health and Wellness and Healthy Living for the Eugene Family YMCA, is a 16-year-old veteran of fitness programming with an expertise in personal training and group exercise.

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