(BLAIR MOREAU, MERCY HEALTH PARTNERS) -- The term core applies to a group of muscles throughout the upper and lower body. All these muscles work together to support the spine. Strong supporting muscles reduce lower back pain and decrease the risk for lower back injury. You can test your core strength by doing a straight elbow plank. If you can hold the position for 2 minutes without breaking form, you have a strong core. A strong core allows you to do so much more physically; here are four moves to strength your core.

  1. Plank: Lie face down on the floor resting on your forearms. Push off the floor, raising up on your toes and resting on the elbows. Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels. Contract your abs so your rear end does not stick up or sag.
  2. KettleBell Raise: Stand with your knees slightly bent and hold a kettle bell in front of your hips. Keeping your arms straight, slowly raise the kettlebell in front of you until it is shoulder level and then slowly lower it back down. Make sure you keep and focus on perfect posture throughout the activity. This exercise can be performed with a plate or dumbbell.
  3. Around the World: Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Start with both hands on the kettlebell in front of you. Release the bell with one hand and use the other to move it behind your back. At the same time, move your free hand behind your back and hand the kettlebell to it. Move the kettlebell in front of you and hand it off back to the other hand. All the while maintaining an upright posture and squeezing your abdominals. Make sure you go around both ways.
  4. Side Plank: This is a more advanced exercise to the plank. Lie on your side, balancing on the forearm and feet. Lift up on the elbow and keep your body stiff from head to toe. Hold for as long as you can and lower to the floor. Repeat on the other side.

Slowly work your core to decrease the risk of injury. A strong core will improve your physical performance, flexibility and stability.