When you picture a strong core, you probably imagine someone doing tons of crunches to grow their muscles. But building ab strength is about so much more than physical appearance: It can help you go about everyday tasks with more ease and improve your overall wellbeing, according to Laura Pachnos, an instructor at solidcore and yoga and Pilates teacher.
"Core work is the center of every movement," she tells Byrdie. "Having a strong core is more than the ability to hold a plank for an extended period of time; it’s actually a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle."
And building core strength isn't just about hammering out tons of sit-ups. Working your core in various ways is crucial to building comprehensive abdominal strength, according to certified personal trainer Dale Santiago. He suggests switching it up with exercises like planks and standing core moves to help you soak in all of the benefits of a strong core.
And what are those benefits, you ask? Below, trainers tell Byrdie all about the perks of having solid core strength.
It Supports Better Posture
Your core isn't just your "six-pack" ab muscles at the front of your body, says Pachnos — it actually wraps around your entire torso, including muscles in your sides and back. So when all of your core muscles are stronger, particularly your inner core muscles that attach to your spine, it helps you better keep yourself upright with good posture.
Bonus? A strong core and the improved posture it brings can help you prevent some of the irksome neck and back pain that comes from hunching over your laptop all day. "Sitting at a desk for long periods of time can negatively impact your core strength regardless of your activity outside of work," says Santiago. "If this is your current work situation, make sure you break up your long periods of sitting in a chair with a quick walk or stretch."
It Improves Balance
Total core strength and the good posture it brings also benefits your balance, Pachnos adds. That's because when you're working from a solid base, it's easier to stay upright on unsteady ground or recover from a stumble. "It creates an equilibrium in your body," she tells Byrdie. "You stand a little bit taller and have a balance throughout your entire physical being."
It Supports Good Running Form
Another perk of better balance? An easier time recovering from missteps and staying in stride while you're on a jog, says Santiago. A strong core also helps you sustain solid form when you run, he adds. "Core strength allows the pelvis, hips, and lower back to work together more smoothly with less rocking and less excess energy expended," he explains. Not only does that bode well for your next run, but regularly practicing good form can help you avoid strain or injury as you log those miles.
It Increases Stability
According to Santiago, having a sturdy torso helps you hold steady no matter what activity you're doing. "A strong core helps you stand straighter and keeps your trunk stabilized during your workout or even as you go about your daily activities," he tells Byrdie. "If you have a weak core, you instantly heighten your risk of muscle injuries, lower back pain, and poor posture."
It Protects Your Organs
Organs are a vital part of your body's function, and a strong core can help keep some of them safe, says Pachnos. Organs like your liver, spleen, kidneys, and more live right underneath your abdominal wall, which acts as a shield against the outside. As a result, the stronger your core, the better it protects that tissue from external force or damage.
It Makes Everyday Life Easier
Your core is the base of all the moves you make, says Pachnos. So the stronger your core, the easier it is to execute everyday movements like bending down to pick something off the ground, standing for long periods of time, or doing household chores. This is why many core exercises fall under the umbrella of functional fitness: They can help you go about your day with more ease, literally making you more functional.
It Can Reduce or Prevent Pain
Another major perk of a strong core? It helps you feel better overall, says Pachnos. "Having a strong core simply makes your quality of life easier," she explains. "It reduces any pain you may be having, supports your lower back, strengthens your spine, and makes you feel a whole lot better." That's because the ripple effects of a strong core — better posture, better balance, moving around with more ease — can help you avoid irritation and mitigate the discomfort from behaviors like sitting at your computer all day so that you can feel your best.
It Boosts Your Power
When it comes to exercise, a strong core is never a bad idea. Your core is the powerhouse of all of your movements, so building abdominal strength can help you perform athletic movements like swinging a tennis racket or baseball bat, throwing a punch, or weight lifting with more power than you would otherwise, says Santiago.
It Supports Strength Training
Strength isn't just important in your core — working the muscles throughout your body can help you function your best. And a solid core sets the stage for success with that additional strength training, says Santiago. "A strong core means the ability to lift more weight," he explains. "Strong lifts require a great deal of stability and core strength to execute with proper form."
It Helps You Age Well
Core strength is important throughout your life, says Santiago. It stabilizes your entire body and gives you better balance and posture, all of which can help prevent falls, decrease back pain, and keep you mobile as you get older.
Harvard Medical School. The Real-world Benefits of Strengthening Your Core. Published January 24, 2012.