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Health & Fitness: Building Core Stiffness

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By Kim Duke, NETA & AAFA Certified Trainer

For the past several decades, traditional core training has included exercises such as sit-ups, back extensions and twists.  However, in recent years, isometric core exercise might be a better way to develop core strength and stiffness.

Core stiffness is vital for athletes and non-athletes alike, because it strengthens muscles, improves muscular endurance, reduces low back pain and boosts performance.  Greater core stiffness transfers strength and speed to the limbs, increases the load-bearing capacity of the spine and protects internal organs during movements.

A landmark study by Benjamin Lee and Stuart McGill in 2015, and published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, showed that isometric exercises for the core resulted in greater core stiffness than performing whole-body exercises that were formerly the go-to for building a strong core. Some of the isometric core exercises for all individuals desiring a stiffer core include planks, bird dogs, side-bridges, stir-the-pot using a Swiss ball, carry exercises, inverted rows and cable wood chops.

For the competitive athlete, there are dynamic core exercises, such as curl-ups, supermans, lateral medicine ball throws and rotational medicine ball throws, just to name a few.

And, for what it’s worth, the old advice of “suck in your gut and stand up straight,” is also sound and proven to be an isometric way of keeping your core strong.  Just don’t hold your breathe while doing it, or for that matter, while doing any core exercise.

None of this means that if you are doing whole-body dynamic exercises that you are wasting your time or not building a stronger core and body.  All this study suggests is that isometric exercises build better stiffness.  So, continue to train, and to train smart.  Never hesitate to ask a professional for help with form and function.  There is no “dumb question” in the fitness industry that is constantly evolving.

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