- Traditional Exercises are those that you are probably most familiar with, such as the standard crunch; a standard crunch with rotation, which incorporates your internal and external obliques; or a standing rotation with a band, cable or light hand weight.
- Functional Exercises target most of the muscles within your abdominal wall and are performed by stabilizing your body while in motion. An example of such an exercise would be functional work on a stability ball, as your body is working to stabilize itself on the ball.
- Stabilizing Exercises are best known for stabilizing your spine; drawing the transverse abdominal wall back into your spine and increasing lower back stability. Lying on the floor and pulling your belly back toward your spine and holding that position while maintaining deep breathing is an excellent exercise to start with. Once this is mastered, you can add movement such as a slow floor bridge or extending your leg while maintaining the drawn-in posture.
- Extension Exercises are performed to strengthen the erector spinae in your back. Oftentimes, back exercises are ignored when devising a core-training program. However, it is an integral part of your core routine. A good extension exercise is to lay on your stomach with arms extended above your head. You then raise both arms and both legs, at the same time, off the floor. Hold for a count of five, or five breaths, and slowly return to the floor. This exercise is sometimes called Superman.
All of the experts agree that working and strengthening the core is essential to overall well being, but there are differing schools of thought as to which abdominal muscles are the most important to enhancing the core. Most core exercises, when performed correctly, are effective; some are just more effective than others. One school of thought you can ignore is that all you need to do is crunches to successfully train your core. This couldn't be farther from the truth.
In order to effectively train your core, you must incorporate a variety of stabilization, functional and traditional exercises. The traditional abdominal floor crunch has been found to produce the least amount of muscle activity. That's not to say that you should never perform a traditional abdominal crunch; but this particular exercise should be done as part of a varied, well thought out core strengthening routine. I personally do not believe it is a good exercise for people with spinal issues.
It has been well documented that exercises that require constant stabilization throughout the exercise performed ignites the most muscle activity. Core exercises, specifically abdominal exercises, must be done in a variety of ranges of motion and in different angles and positions in order to engage all muscles.
It is helpful to think of your core routine in different segments: Traditional, Functional, Stabilizing and Extension Exercises.
Ideally you'll want to include core exercises every time you work out. Firstly because a well-balanced core routine does not always incorporate heavy weights, and since there are so many muscle areas it's not a problem to include core exercises each time you exercise. These types of exercises, while varying what you do every time you work on your core, puts you on the best path to a well balanced, functional core. Please remember it is always best to consult a fitness trainer for proper form when beginning any type of core strengthening exercise. What can make you stronger and more fit, can also cause you injury if not performed correctly.