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While many fitness enthusiasts strive to achieve sculpted abs because they want to look trim and fit, the benefits of strong core muscles extend far beyond vanity.

No matter what your fitness goals are, building strong core muscles is critical. Not only do these muscles help you maintain balance, they play a huge role in activities of daily living. Whether you’re moving furniture, throwing a ball or reaching overhead to grab an object from a tall shelf, you need to tap your core muscles to stay on your feet.

Common core-related injuries

Low back injuries are among the most common injuries in the country – and they often result from weak core muscles. If your core is weak, you’ll compensate by using your back and shoulder muscles. So whether you’re kicking a soccer ball (which requires rotating your torso) or lifting heavy weights, you need to focus on all of the muscles in your core to avoid recruiting other muscle groups.

Targeting your core

Your core muscles extend from your chest to your pelvis and include three major groups:

  • The rectus abdominus – The chiseled six-pack muscles you see on swimsuit models and athletes are the rectus abdominus muscles. They’re easily targeted with sit-ups, V-sits and planks.
     
  • The obliques – These internal and external muscles run down the sides of your body and allow you to rotate and spin. Twisting sit-ups and crunches and exercises that include rotating and strengthening will help build this set of muscles.
     
  • The transverse abdominus – These muscles encircle your body almost like a corset. Unfortunately, they’re also the most difficult to target. Your best bet: Draw your belly in toward your spine and hold it for three to five counts, then release. Do a set of 10, three times each day and work your way up to more. Over time, you can even learn to do these transverse abdominal exercises while making yourself lunch, driving or chatting on the phone.

The best way to ensure you’re targeting all of your abs is to work with a buddy. Not only will a friend or trainer motivate you, he or she can also help make sure you’re doing exercises correctly.

The truth about six-pack abs

If your primary goal is to reach six-pack status, it’s not going to happen with sit-ups, crunches and isolation exercises. Instead, you’ll want to focus on your diet. To get that rock hard, sculpted core, focus on losing weight and skimming sugar, saturated fat and calories from your daily intake. Of course, don’t skimp on ab exercises, either.

Lauren Rao is an athletic trainer with Henry Ford Health System and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in athletic training from Albion College and the University of Virginia, respectively. She has additional certifications as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA and as a USA Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach. She is currently assigned to work with athletes at Lawrence Technological University as an injury prevention specialist.

Still unsure how to get the core muscles you covet? Visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936) to schedule an appointment with one of our physical trainers.

Read more nutrition and fitness advice on Henry Ford LiveWell Health and Wellness Blog, so subscribe to get all the latest tips.

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.

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