Training with free weights can enhance core stability and movement control.
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The desire for a strong core is common theme among exercise and fitness enthusiasts. Strengthening your core muscles can firm your abs and reduce your risk of back and hip injuries. You can find many exercise gadgets advertised in the media that claim to strengthen your core, but free weights such as kettlebells, barbells and dumbbells may be more reliable tools.
Not Just Your Abs.
Core training isn't necessarily about working your abs so you can become the next cover model. Oftentimes, you don't even need to isolate your abs to improve core stability. The core -- which includes the transversus abdominis, obliques, pelvic floor muscles and deep muscles along your spine -- works in a reflexive manner. As a result, your core fires automatically when you perform actions such as running, swinging a golf club or lifting a heavy kettlebell. Additionally, your core functions much like a force distributor and shock absorber to protect your spine and your organs, says low back expert Dr. Stuart McGill. For example, your rectus abdominis -- the six-pack muscle -- absorbs shock and stiffens your torso to prevent it from folding forward when you strike your foot on the ground during a run or land on both feet after a jump. Your core functions in the same manner when you lift a heavy weight off the floor or over your head.
Body Position Matters
The way you position your body and whether you use one or two free weights -- such as a dumbbell or kettlebell -- can influence how hard your core works. In a 2012 study published in the "European Journal of Applied Physiology," subjects demonstrated higher core activation in a standing than a seated position when they performed dumbbell shoulder presses. Likewise, lifting one dumbbell elicited a higher core activation than lifting two. Play with different body positions, such as a split-standing position, squat position or kneeling position with one or two weights in each hand. This spices up your workouts to avoid doing the same old thing every week.
Most people don't spend their days lying on the floor. Fitness professional Nicole Pizzi recommends that you train your core from a standing position to move your body through all planes of motion while improving your core and spinal stabilization. Various free-weight exercises -- lifts, swings, cleans -- work on your core muscles, whether you're using a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell. Lifting exercises -- such as bent-over rows or standing shoulder presses with one or two dumbbells -- will challenge your core while you target your back and shoulders. For a full-body challenge, kettlebell swings, single-leg kettlebell deadlifts and barbell squats use your core to help you lift a heavy weight that you normally wouldn't be able to handle with just your limbs. Work with a qualified exercise professional if you're new to using free weights before working out on your own.
Holding or carrying a free weight in one hand while you move will challenge your core to keep you balanced, especially if you carry one weight instead of two. These exercises include the one-arm farmer's walk and the bottom-up kettlebell carry. Physical therapist Gray Cook, author of "Athletic Body in Balance," recommends that you challenge your core by emphasizing the eccentric phase of the exercise -- or the process of lowering the weight. This automatically creates a reflex in your core to help you maintain your balance, posture and movement control so you don't drop the weight. For example, after you lift a heavy dumbbell overhead, take about four seconds to lower the weight.
- Athletic Body in Balance; Gray Cook
- Athletic Development; Vern Gambetta