5 Tips to Strengthen Your Core

The perfect sit up can be an elusive achievement. Maybe you've learned how to do them in elementary school, when you could knock out 60 or more in a minute. Never mind that your hips were flying off the ground the entire time.

Or maybe you take the easy way out and opt for trendy equipment to "assist" you in core strengthening exercises. While shiny new toys are fun, they won't replace good old-fashioned hard work. The bottom line is, most people don't really understand the proper technique to do a sit up.

Let's get one thing straight, there's more to your core than just your abs. Your core consists of a group of muscles located in your abdominals, back, hips, and hamstrings. These muscles are the connection between your upper and lower body, and help you stand upright and resist force or impact. If you're sitting down to read this article, think of the motions you go through to stand up, sit down, stand up again, walk a few steps, and open a door. None of that is possible without your core muscles, and you use them in nearly everything you do. So it's important to keep those muscles strong.

A sit up is a great way to strengthen your core—here's the right way to do it:

  1. Begin by lying with your back on the floor. You can use a cushioned mat if you like. Bend your legs at the knee, keeping your feet on the floor, in a line with your hips.
  2. Place your hands behind your head. You can interlace your fingers if you like, or just set your hands on either side of your head. Do whatever is comfortable for you.
  3. Engage your abs, meaning tense your muscles just enough to feel some resistance. Inhale.
  4. Exhale as you curl your upper body and then your lower back off the ground toward your knees.
  5. Roll back down toward the ground and inhale, with your lower back touching the ground first and then your upper body.

That's it. A sit up is a simple, yet very effective exercise, but only when done properly.

Here are a few tips to help you stay safe and avoid injury:

  • Do not arch your back. You only want to feel this exercise in the middle of your stomach. Arching your back puts excess strain on other muscles, and increases your risk for injury.
  • If your neck begins to hurt while doing sit ups, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth. It helps your throat and neck muscles relax, easing tension.
  • Don't overtrain your core. Two to four days per week is sufficient. Not only will you overwork the muscles, you'll have a hard time getting around, which may influence you to skip your workout altogether.

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Boise Healthy Living Examiner Donna Bush is a fitness instructor who is passionate about helping families maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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