So how do you train the body's core?
Good results can come from unexpected places, including the weight room. James Schoffstall, director of exercise science at Liberty University in Virginia, says dead lifts and squats are proven ways to strengthen the core. As he explains, the core muscles have to stiffen throughout the lifts. He adds that the moves prepare the body for real-life activities outside of the gym. "Picking up a suitcase — that's a dead lift," he says. "Getting up off the toilet — that's a squat."
It doesn't take huge amounts of weight to get results, Schoffstall says. He recommends trying a simple "suitcase squat." Stand up straight holding a 5- or 10-pound dumbbell at your side in one hand. Then extend your opposite arm and slowly squat down as if you were about to sit in a chair. Repeat 10 times or so and then switch sides.
Over the years, Stuart McGill, the director of the spine biomechanics laboratory at the University of Waterloo in Canada, has settled on his own "big three" core exercises that he recommends as part of a comprehensive workout routine. The exercises — known as the curl up, the side bridge and the bird dog — were designed to provide the most core benefit without putting undue stress on the spine.