Build core strength with these 3 exercises

In this “Body Parts” series, Dimity McDowell gets you in playing shape, from head to toe.

Exercises for your: Chest | Biceps/Triceps | Shoulders

Body part: Core

What it does: The athletic buzzword of the last decade, the core — the area from the bottom of your ribs to the bottom of your booty — continues to get much of the focus when it comes to strength training.

And for good reason.

“Your power and stability originate in your core,” says Briana Boehmer, director of wellness and fitness services at Salus, Inc., in Delafield, Wis. “When your core is weak and collapses, so to speak, you can’t generate force. Your shoulders slump, your back buckles and you’re not half as effective as you could be.”

What’s more, because a weak or tired core doesn’t absorb the shock produced by running or pivoting or throwing, something else on your body has to take the brunt.

“It can often be the knees,” Boehmer says. “A weak core can often be the unexpected reason for an injury in the lower body.”

This week we’ll focus on the abs and obliques; in the coming weeks, we’ll hit the lower back, hips and glutes.

Used most commonly when you: Pivot to change directions on a field or court, swing a golf club or tennis racket, pitch a softball, throw a soccer ball in from the sidelines, run the hurdles, stand tall as you receive a trophy or ribbon, and anytime you move your arms and your legs simultaneously in an athletic motion.

Here are three exercises that target your core.

1. Plank Rollout

How to: Begin with your upper body resting lightly on a stability ball, and your forearms resting on the ball. Your knees are on the ground and your toes are tucked under. Roll your torso onto the ball so that your hands rest on the ground, arms straight and under your shoulders. With your abs tight, slowly walk your hands out so that your body rolls along the ball. “The further out you go, the more challenging it is to hold it correctly,” says Boehmer, who notes that your abs should be engaged and your hips in line with your knees, shoulders and head. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute; repeat 3-4 times.

2. Stability Ball Pike

How to: Start the same way as you did in the plank rollout, rolling the ball to the furthest point on your lower body where you can still maintain proper form. Once you're there, raise your body at the hips by pushing your rear end up toward the ceiling. “The key is to engage your core,” Boehmer says. “Start with a small lift and challenge yourself to go higher as you get more comfortable.” Lower back down to your plank position, and repeat. Do 10-20 reps of 3-4 sets.

3. Side Plank

How to: Begin by sitting on your left side, legs straight, outer edge of left foot on the ground and inner edge of right foot positioned a few inches behind it. Your left arm should be extended straight down from your shoulder, palm a few inches from your left hip. Activate your abs, and lift your body up so that you’re resting on your left hand and edges of both feet. Extend your right arm up to the ceiling. “Be sure your body is in a straight line from head to toe and your shoulder blades are back and down,” says Boehmer, who adds that you can make the plank more challenging by putting one foot on top of the other or lifting the upper leg to hip-height. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then lower, maintaining good posture. Do 10-20 reps per side and 3-4 sets.

Let's hear it for the core: “Core training has been a vital part of my swim training and running. In swimming, a strong core allows me to better control my movements and fight off fatigue. With running, when I want to run harder or faster, my energy and drive comes from my core. I feel this is especially true when I run hills. Plus, a strong core helps me stay balanced when I run, which makes me less prone to injury.” -- Laura Werking, junior swimmer and runner at Brookfield East (Brookfield, Wis.)