The 5 Best Core Exercises

Core exercises and core strength are hot topics in the fitness world.  That's because a strong core is about so much more than six-pack abs.  It's an important part of your overall health.

What is your core?  Your core is your trunk or mid-section and includes muscles in your abdomen, back, hips, and pelvis.  It's where your center of gravity is located.  A strong core protects your internal organs, allows smooth, controlled movement, and protects your back.  A weak core makes you vulnerable to back pain, injuries, and poor posture and balance. 

How do you build a strong core?  With regular exercise that targets core muscles, you can build a sturdy core. Exercises like walking, jogging or other cardio workouts are a great place to start.

Here are five core exercises that go way beyond the old-fashioned sit-up.  Use an exercise ball to protect your back and neck. Plus, balancing on the ball requires coordinated effort from all your core muscles.

1) The new crunch. Position your shoulders and upper back on the ball, feet on the ground and knees at a 90-degree angle.  Place your hands under your neck.  Tighten your abs and slowly roll into a crunch position by lifting your shoulders and upper back off the ball.  Concentrate on controlled movement as you lower back down.  Repeat 15 times.

2) Oblique Ball Crunch. Lie face up on a mat with heels on the ball (calves should be parallel to the ground).  With your hands behind your head, exhale and lift your head and shoulders off the ground, rotate your right shoulder toward your left knee.  Hold for one breath, and return to the mat.  Repeat by rotating your left shoulder toward your right knee.  Repeat for 10 repetitions on each side.

3) Ball Bridge. Lie on your back with both heels on the ball and arms palm down on the floor at your side.  Pull your hips up (like bridge pose in yoga) while you slowly roll the ball towards you.  Hold and slowly roll it back.  Repeat 12 times. 

Alternate move. With your hips lifted, lift your right knee off the ball (keeping it at a 90-degree angle) and bring it close to your abdomen. Roll ball towards you with your left heel.  Roll ball back to starting position.  Replace right heel on ball and repeat with opposite legs.  

4) Ball Squats. Stand with your legs hip width apart, back straight and abs tight.  Hold the exercise ball straight out in front of you.  Bend your knees and lower straight down as far as you can- don't let your knees go in front of your feet.  Rotate your core and bring the ball to the right.  Hold for three counts and return to center. Return to standing and repeat, this time rotating to the left.  Repeat for 10 squats. If you have knee problems, don't squat lower than your knees.

5) Ball point. Lie face down with the ball supporting your mid-section, legs extended behind you and hands on the floor under shoulders. Tighten abs and slowly extend your right arm straight from your shoulders and extend left leg straight from the hip.  Hold, release and switch sides. Repeat 10 times.