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Why “Rock Hard Abs” Isn’t Just About Vanity

In reality, having a strong core is much deeper than the kind of washboard abs that would make Fight Club-era Brad Pitt bow down in inferiority.

Having an excess of abdominal fat is extremely risky, and even if you’re at a normal weight it has risk factors similar to smoking a pack a day. Yikes. Luckily, you help offset fat by building core strength. Additionally, strengthening your core has plenty of other proven benefits, such as improving posture, lower back pain, and even improving endurance. See below for five benefits that go well beyond giving Brad a run for his money:

Core strength helps improve posture

If you spend multiple hours a week hunched over your computer, than you could unknowingly be morphing into Quasimodo. We’re all about body acceptance and all, but having poor posture has serious limitations, including decreased spinal mobility, function and quality of life. If you hunch, then you probably need to strengthen that core. Have a hard time believing that? It’s been proven. A 2005 study studied the direct effects of core strengthening exercises on spinal functionality over a 12 week period. In the study, the subjects who did strength training-based core strengthening showed significant improvements in all areas measured, while the control group reported no difference in any. The subjects who strengthened their cores displayed better spinal range of movement, motion velocity, and even self-reported decreased disability and better quality of life.

Core strength can help your endurance

Cardio junkies and strength training aficionados don’t usually see eye to eye on many things, but they make a concession for core strength. Having strong endurance has real life implications that go well beyond reducing your marathon time, including better heart health and improved quality of sleep. According to a 2009 study, beginner adult runners who completed six weeks of core training drills were able to lower their 5k run times substantially more compared with novice runners who did no midsection strengthening. It stands to reason that having a stronger core directly impacts better heart health and sleep.

Core strength improves balance

If you self-identify as clumsy, then you could probably stand to improve your balance. This becomes increasingly important as you age, since recurrent falls are more common among an aging population. While there are several risk factors to losing your footing, weak core strength is a big contributor. A 2014 study on patients with muscular dystrophy concluded that the so-called “trunk” muscles play a crucial role in core stability. They found that patients with weaker core muscles have greater imbalance or recurrent falls, and they recommend strength training to improve core strength before any other potential treatment.



Core strength helps lessen lower back pain

As humans, walking upright is kind of our thing. The consistent pressure on our spine has some unfortunate consequences, though, and lower back pain is probably the most widespread. A weaker core has been proven to contribute to lower back pain, and some abdominal work is the known antidote. One such study prescribed the core strengthening exercise, pilates, to sufferers of chronic lower back pain (LBP). The study, originally published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy in 2006, found that the individuals in a pilates-based training group reported a substantial decrease in LBP as well as disability. They concluded that hitting the mat was found to be more effective than usual care in individuals with chronic LBP. The decreased pain was maintained over the year-long follow-up period with the group that strengthened their cores in pilates. 

Core strength reduces risk of injury

Sometimes your chosen career path requires you to spend the majority of your week in awkward positions. These put you at a known greater risk for injury, but that doesn’t mean you need to change course. You probably just need to strengthen that core, according to a 2007 study originally published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology. The study of 433 firefighters tested a training program to improve flexibility and strength in the core muscle group over a 12 month period. They were able to reduce lost time caused by injuries by 62% and the overall number of injuries by 42% over the year, compared with the control group. In short, core strength is all the more important if your work puts you at risk for injury.

In conclusion, the benefits of core strength provide a compelling case. There’s no shortage of ways to build it beyond the usual suspects of abdominal crunches and pilates classes. Boat pose is a simple to adopt exercise that builds serious core strength over time.