Build Muscles and Boost Core Strength
Table of contents
There is a good reason why I have combined two very interesting topics. Building muscle and enhancing your core strength may seem like they are a world apart to some gym dwellers, but they can complement each other well. In fact, having a stable and strong core will help you become stronger in other departments. All will be explained in this comprehensive guide that gives you the lowdown on core strength and muscle gain.
Through scientific knowledge, I have managed to combine these areas of fitness in bespoke programmes for my clients. This helps them to get that six-pack they’ve always dreamed about while also becoming stronger, fitter and faster. Discover my proven techniques and one-to-one training for yourself by getting in touch.
1. Introduction to Core Strength
Core strength is the term given to the stability and strength of our core muscles. When we say core muscles, most people automatically think of our abdominals. This is because having defined abdominals has become a much-desired aesthetic within society. However, core strength goes beyond having strong abdominals and includes many more muscles.
Our bodies are made up of surface muscles and muscles that lie deeper beneath the surface. Having holistic core strength means that both your surface muscles, such as your abdominals, and smaller muscles beneath the surface are stable and strong. These other muscles are not just located on the front of your core either. They are found all around your torso and provide support for the spine as well.
Strong core muscles help you remain more stable when moving. As a result, they play a pivotal role in complex and compound movements that are used to build strength. If you want to squat more, you should work on your core. If you want to bench press heavier loads, then you should also work on your core. The importance of your core strength to the way you move and its influence on overall strength is significant.
Most exercises that target core strength are performed with minimal equipment or without equipment at all. This does not mean that there are a limited number of core exercises to choose from. There are many exercises that can target your core, but you need to pick the ones that are best for your needs – and you need to perform them safely. Some people experience back pain after performing core exercises incorrectly, meaning it is often safer to consult a personal trainer first so you can establish the correct technique together.
2. Why is Core Stability Important?
3. A Beginners Guide to Core Workouts
To target your rectus abdominis, which is the area from your pelvic bone to your sternum, you should choose to opt for one of the most well-known core exercises. Simply lie on your back with your knees bent and curl your upper torso towards your hips. The pull should come from just under your ribs, not your neck. Your shoulders should leave the floor, and when you get stronger all your ribs. Keep the abs squeezed in tightly.
2. Reverse Curls
To target your transverse abdominus – the deepest muscle corset like muscle usually felt in the lower ab area below your belly button – try a reverse curl. Lie on your back with knees bent and straighten one leg at a time towards the sky. Now take a deep breathe in and on an exhale squeeze in your abs below the belly button really hard so the lower back is pushed into the floor and the pelvis tilts a small way. Release and repeat. It’s a very small subtle movement and is more about the squeeze than the motion so don’t try and make a big swing.
As you get stronger you can continue into a rollover by allowing your legs to come over your head until your toes touch the floor, peeling off your spine vertebrae by vertebrae using your abs, and then very slowly using your abs to control your spine back down.
It is important not to neglect the core muscles that are situated along your side, namely your obliques. Lie on your back with knees bent and straighten one leg at a time towards the sky, so you are in the same starting position as for a reverse curl. Using your waist muscles move your legs a small way to one side and then the other like a pendulum. Again it’s a small subtle movement so don’t worry about how far your feet travel, focus on how hard you can work your waist.
4. Captains Chair or Hanging Leg Lifts
A more advanced exercise that targets abdominals uses the effects of Gravity. Once you are strong enough you can combine all the 3 exercises above. Get into a start position on a Captains Chair machine. Do a slight curl-up to engage your rectus and squeeze your lower abs to engage your transverse using your abs to push your lower back into the foam. Lift your legs by bending one knee at a time and then straighten and move your feet in an arch from side to side like the pendulums you did on the floor. You are now working all your abdominals against Gravity so it’s a much stronger exercise. If you don’t have access to a Captains Chair just hang from a bar and do the same leg pendulum.
These are just four of the easiest core exercises to add to your workout. Getting the basics right is important before incorporating more technical core exercises. Even though these exercises are simple and are a great starting point for beginners, it remains important to execute them safely and to understand the correct range of motion to prevent spinal issues and back pain. To do this and keep yourself safe, remember to speak to an exercise professional.
4. The Best Core Strength Exercises
Some of the best core exercises come from the world of Pilates. A typical Pilates class will have you completing all types of engaging movements that put your abdomen and the muscles surrounding your spine under a safe amount of tension. This leads to an increase in stability and core strength. To give you an idea of the beneficial core exercises that will typically be seen in Pilates studios, I have listed three of my clients’ and my own favourites right here:
The Scissor Kick
To perform The Scissor Kick and give your abs a beneficial workout, start by lying on the floor facing the ceiling. Slightly curl your head up without applying to much stress to your neck and slowly bring one leg up towards you. You can use your arms to control the movement of your leg and then lower the leg back to a couple of inches from the floor. Next, bring the other leg up and repeat this movement pattern smoothly a number of times to suit your abilities.
Leg Lift Plank
Planking is a popular choice for those wanting a strong and toned core. One type of plank that is popular in Pilates classes is the plank with a leg lift. This exercise requires you to get in a straight arm planking position like you are about to begin a push-up. Make sure that your arms are straight and directly aligned under your shoulders. Once in position, you remain in your planking position by engaging your core, hips and bum – but you add in an alternating leg lift by squeezing each glute (bum cheek muscle). When lifting your leg up, make sure you keep your leg straight and ensure that you do not lift your leg too quickly or so high your pelvis tilts. Refrain from rocking your hips to keep your core engaged.
Another great core exercise straight from the Pilates instructor’s handbook is The Teaser. It’s also in many yoga classes as a boat pose. Get in position to start by lying on your back, again facing the ceiling, but this time raising your legs and bending your knees at around 90 degrees. You need to place your hands against the exercise mat with your palms facing down. To perform the exercise, raise your torso and your arms while keeping them straight. This motion appears as though you are reaching for your toes with straight arms, but you must simultaneously straighten your legs while keeping them in the air. This works your core and creates a V-shape when viewed from the side.
Start building muscle and core strength today!
That wraps up our guide into core strength, stability and building muscle. I hope that I have managed to shed some light on these topics and unpacked why these topics are related. Taking the information and the featured exercises on board will certainly help with your own fitness journey. However, we are not all the same and a bespoke fitness plan with tailored coaching is an effective way to incorporate the points mentioned above.
To get just this, do not hesitate to speak to me and we can discuss personal training that puts you and your fitness goals at the heart of every exercise. I offer private one-to-one training and nutritional advice that gets results. Many of my past and present clients are stronger now than they have ever been. They are loving their new appearance, their new-found energy and the confidence that their core strength and overall strength has given them. Get in touch and learn how together we can make you stronger from the core out!
5. The Best Exercises for Strong Abs
Most of the exercises that have been featured above have focused on abdominals, but as we mentioned earlier, having a strong core does not mean just having strong abdominal muscles. However, lots of people exercise primarily for the aesthetic benefits that come about from losing weight and becoming fitter. Many people also exercise for the sole benefit of trying to achieve a six-pack. Although good overall fitness should always be the aim, here are three effective exercises to develop strong abdominals – and none of them are crunches!
If any of you have done a plank before you will have felt the shaking feeling and the benefits. Planking is a fantastic way to engage your abdominals. One particular type of plank that is really effective is the forearm plank. This is different from the one mentioned above. To do this plank you need to lie on an exercise mat facing down. Proceed to raise yourself off the floor by balancing on your toes and the outside of your forearms, turn your hands palms in to a karate chop position or squeeze your hands in a ball. Make sure your elbows are underneath your shoulders and that they are aligned parallel. Now, all you have to do is hold yourself in this position. Aim for 30 seconds to begin with and gradually increase the length of your sets for an effective progression.
2. Dead Bugs
Dead Bugs gets its name from the position you find yourself in when completing this awesome exercise. To set yourself up, lie on an exercise mat on your back and raise your legs off the floor and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle; then proceed to raise your arms straight into the air. Now you see why they are called dead bugs? To execute this exercise correctly, slowly lower your right arm above your head and pause before touching the floor. Simultaneous to this movement, you must lower your left leg to the floor by straightening it. Notice that the one arm lowers with the opposite leg at the same time. A top tip is to squeeze your abs really tightly to make sure that your back stays in contact with the exercise mat while performing the exercise.
3. Back Squats
An abdomen that you could grate cheese off is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of squats. You are more likely to conjure up images of strong legs. However, the back squat is a king exercise that engages many muscle groups, including your abdomen when executed correctly. Squatting is one of the most complex movements and it should be introduced into your routine with the help of a fitness professional. Moreover, many people do not follow the ribs-over-hips rule and their abdominals are not engaged as effectively as they could be. If you are worried that your squatting form is not giving you the best results, contact a knowledgeable fitness instructor for guidance.
6. Understanding Muscle Building
All of the core exercises that have been listed above will develop stability, balance and of course core strength. They also play a role in helping you gain strength in other areas. However, there are many other aspects of your training that need to be considered when wanting to build muscle. The idea of building muscle and getting stronger is a motivating factor in starting an exercise routine for many men and women. Becoming stronger makes daily tasks easier and it also offers a desirable aesthetic benefit in the eyes of many clients.
The types of exercise you include in your training programme is crucial to how effective you will build muscle. It is not just about simply lifting weights. You need to complete certain compound exercises before focusing on smaller muscles. I’ll be coming back to this later. Reps, sets and understanding the correct form also play a part in building muscle. Popular methods include lifting heavier weight with fewer reps while other research suggests that more reps with less weight can also increase muscle. These are all things that can be made easier to understand if you get the help of a personal trainer who can devise a bespoke training plan that meets your training objectives.
A bespoke diet plan to accompany a bespoke workout regime may also speed up your ability to build muscle. After all, our diet does play some part in the way our bodies react to weight training, especially when we consider our calorie and protein intake. Some personal trainers are also qualified to give nutritional advice. Their knowledge in both departments can prove invaluable when trying to increase muscle mass.
The Science of Muscle Growth
Building muscle and strength is one of the main exercise goals for many of my clients. Unfortunately, the internet and discussions taking place in gym locker rooms and free-weight areas are full of misleading or scientifically-unproven suggestions and recommendations. To make sure you do not get caught up in the unproven or ineffective discourse, here is what research tells us about muscle building and how we really do build muscle.
Einstein said that it was madness to repeatedly do the same thing and expect a different result – and he was right when it comes to building muscle too. By lifting weights, we begin to put our bodies and our skeletal muscles under a new type of pressure that they must adapt to. Without this new experience, there is no chance of our muscles growing. When we build muscle, it is just our body telling us that it is adapting to its new environment and uses. So, how do our muscles adapt?
Our muscles grow because they are damaged and then repaired. When we work out, we damage our muscle fibres by causing lots of little tears in them. These muscle fibre tears are then healed by “filling in the gaps” in a process known as Sliding Filament Theory. What this means is that the tears are healed but instead of being joined again in their original place, the tear is filled in and the muscle becomes bigger. This means that the number of tears in our muscle fibres becomes important, but there are other considerations as well, such as our natural body type and genetics – and our diet…
7. Is Training or Diet More Important for Building Muscle?
For the reasons we just mentioned, namely that putting your skeletal muscles under stress and causing small tears in your fibres, training is exceptionally important to muscle gain. However, your diet can also play an important role when trying to gain muscle.
It is not correct to state that one is more important than the other. Not putting your muscles under stress will prevent you from gaining muscle, but it should be done with a healthy and balanced diet that encourages muscle gain. On the other hand, the perfect diet will not help you gain muscle if you are not incorporating the right exercise into your regime. A bespoke weight lifting routine and a tailored nutritional plan should be implemented in tandem to get the best results.
If you are lifting weights with the purpose of building muscle – remember that weights can help you lose weight too – you should compensate for the additional energy expenditure with more calories than the average daily recommendations. You should also try to add more protein into your diet which helps to repair and build those damaged fibres that occur from lifting weights. There are some general rules you can follow but for the best results but it is ideal to seek expert nutritional guidance that is tailored to your body and your goals.
8. How to Build Muscle and Strength
We have mentioned that a combination of a tailored training programme that incorporates weight lifting exercises and a balanced diet with enough calories and protein is the best formula to build muscle. However, we have not told you what exercises are effective at building muscle mass. When it comes to lifting weights, it is important to always use weights that you are comfortable with and to not push yourself to the point where technique goes out of the window and chances of injury hits the roof. It is also important to predominantly adopt compound exercises to build muscle.
So, what are compound exercises? A compound exercise can be defined as an exercise that involves movement at more than one joint. As a result, this means that you engage more than one muscle group. The best examples of compound movements are deadlifts, squats and pull-ups. All of these exercises require movement at more than one (set of) joints and therefore makes more than one muscle group work hard.
It is also good to remember what was said at the beginning of this guide. Core stability and core strength also contribute to your ability to become stronger in other areas. Having core muscles that support your spine and your abdomen when performing the compound exercises mentioned above gives you more stability to perfect their technique and remain in control when your muscles are under tension for a long time.