5 Key Benefits of Strengthening Your Core (Because It's So Much More Than Your Abs)
Your core should be a focal point of your fitness routine, regardless of how you work out.
By Alyssa Sybertz, Team Peloton•
Picture this: You’re seconds away from holding a plank for one full minute (and shattering your PR). As the clock winds down, you start to question whether the benefits of a strong core are really worth all of this hard work. In short, the answer is yes.
A strong midsection can elevate your workouts, even ones that might not seem particularly core-focused. Training this area of your body helps you power through cardio classes, pick up speed during runs, and stabilize your body on the Peloton Bike. What’s more, core strength exercises translate to movements in your everyday life. Want to lift heavy objects without straining your back or make it through daily tasks with more agility? Working your core is key.
Below, we explain how the benefits of a strong core impact your fitness routine and extend to your daily life.
What Are Core Muscles?
Your core consists of several muscle groups—including your back muscles, abdominal muscles, diaphragm, pelvic muscles, and hip muscles—that sit around your midsection. Keep reading to learn more about each muscle group and its function.
You might think of your abs as a single unit, but your abdominals are actually made up of four main muscles. Your abdominal muscles consist of your internal and external obliques, which run along the sides of your torso and help you rotate your body; your rectus abdominis, which are muscles in the center of your body that allow you to bend forward and straighten; and your transverse abdominis, your deepest abdominal muscle that wraps around your torso and stabilizes your spine.
Back muscles are a crucial component of a strong core. Take your erector spinae, for example. This group of muscles—which includes your iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis muscles—sits on either side of your spine and allows you to arch your back and supports lateral movement. As you might guess, your back muscles also offer stability to other parts of your core. Your quadratus lumborum, a deep muscle in your lower back, stabilizes your pelvis and spine during movements.
Your diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle in your chest that expands and contracts as you breathe, creating pressure around other core muscles and resulting in increased spinal stability when you move.
Your pelvic floor forms the base of your core, and strengthening your muscles in this area aids basic body functions (yes, bladder control and bowel movement included).
Hip muscles, which attach your legs to your midsection through a series of muscular bands, allow you to move, sit, stand, run, and pedal. They include your hip flexors, a muscle group at the front of your hips that you use to lift your legs; hip extensors, muscles that help you propel forward when you jump or climb; adductors, muscles in your inner thighs that pull your legs toward the center of your body; and abductors, muscles in your outer thighs that pull your legs apart.
Benefits of a Strong Core
The benefits of a strong core come into play before, during, and after your workouts—regardless of how you exercise or where you are in your fitness journey. Training your midsection can improve your workout form, stabilize your body, boost your athletic performance, increase everyday agility, and prevent injury (among numerous other benefits). Below, we dive deeper into the reasons you should make core work part of your fitness routine.
Supports Proper Form
Without sufficient core strength, it can be extremely challenging to maintain proper form during certain exercises. And if you overcompensate for core weakness by placing too much weight or pressure on other body parts, such as your spine, you increase your risk for injury. So, in order to make sure your workouts feel good (and are safe), allot some time for core strengthening exercises in your fitness schedule.
Aside from protecting you from injuries, proper form helps you perform movements with more efficiency and control. “Having a strong core definitely helps with cycling, especially when you come out of the saddle,” says Peloton instructor Emma Lovewell. “If you have a strong core, your pedal strokes and movement will be smoother, using less energy than someone with a less strong core who might be moving around a lot and wasting energy.”
Improves Balance and Stability
Think about it: Your core is the link between your upper body and lower body. So, it makes sense that training your core muscles can improve your overall balance and stability as you do a wide variety of movements, from holding a yoga pose to running on the Peloton Tread. After all, balance comes into play when you're standing still and on the move. In a review published in Journal of Sports Sciences in 2022, researchers found that core training (including body weight exercises) increases dynamic balance stability, which is your ability to maintain stability while in motion, in both athletes and non-athletes.
Building your core strength can give your workouts a serious boost (and, in some cases, get you closer to setting new PRs). A study published in Behavioral Sciences in 2023 suggests that core training can have a sizable effect on athletes’ general performance, including their core endurance and balance. Of course, doing one set of sit-ups isn’t going to automatically skyrocket your output during your next ride, but over time, consistent core work can improve your athletic performance.
Increases Agility in Everyday Life
“Having a strong core may also improve your ability to do day-to-day movements,” adds Emma. Researchers have found that it's particularly effective for improving agility, which comes in handy when you row, deadlift, sprint, or practice yoga. Plus, your core muscles will also support you as you do things like haul grocery bags, carry children, and work in your garden.
Prevents Injury and Back Pain
The added stability that comes with a strong core prevents injury and eases some types of pain, especially in your back. “Your core is not just the front of your body, but it also includes your lower back,” notes Emma. “When you strengthen your whole core, it greatly helps with injury prevention. Your core muscles work together to support your spine, so having strong abdominal muscles takes the pressure off of your back.”
How to Add Core Training to Your Workout Routine
Not sure where to start? Two of Emma’s favorite exercises are bird-dogs and bicycle crunches. Below, find Emma's step-by step instructions on how to do each move:
“Bird-dogs are great because they are safe for almost all people, and they really focus on your stability in your deep core muscles, as well as your hips, pelvis, spine, and shoulders,” Emma says. This move develops core strength and midsection stability (it works your glutes, too).
Start on all fours, with your knees below your hips and your hands below your shoulders.
While keeping your spine in a neutral position, engage your core muscles and exhale.
Extend your right arm forward while lifting your left leg and extending it behind you.
Hold this position for a few counts, further extending your arm and leg for a gentle stretch.
Lower your arm and leg back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.
Muscles worked: Obliques, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, hamstrings
2. Bicycle Crunches
“Bicycle crunches are great because you get the spinal rotation bringing your opposite elbow to knee. It’s always good to move your body in all planes, and you can really feel the burn.” This classic core move activates the muscles you typically think of as your abs. To make this exercise a little easier, you can raise your elbow and knee but don't force them to touch.
Lie on your back with your legs extended. Bend your elbows and clasp your hands behind your head.
Engage your core, exhale, and raise your head and shoulders off the floor.
Simultaneously twist your torso and reach your right elbow toward your midline. At the same time, bend your left knee and raise it toward your right elbow.
Inhale and pause. Then, extend your left leg back to the starting position as you twist the opposite way, raising your left elbow toward your midline. Bend and lift your right knee toward your left elbow.
Continue this motion while keeping your head and shoulders off the floor.
Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, hip flexors, hip extensors
The stronger and more stable your core is, the less likely you are to injure yourself due to poor form. As an added bonus, a well-trained core can lead to faster PRs and boosted agility levels.
Aim to do core work several times a week to start feeling overall improvement in your fitness levels and workout form. If you don't have time to weave in core moves, incorporate sequences that work all of your core muscle groups in your warm-up or cooldown routine.