Even though there is a 6-foot high snow bank outside of your window, summer will be here before you know it. You've been covered up in layers of clothing all winter, but soon you'll be back on the beach — usually before you're ready.

One of the most rewarding benefits of well-trained abdominal and core musculature is the confidence that comes naturally with looking and feeling fit.

Some of the other benefits associated with strong abs and core muscles are less obvious but equally important.

Increased Athletic performance: Great athletic performance requires more that just talent. Strong abs and core muscles provide the athlete with increased balance, available strength and power, increased speed, improved reaction time, endurance and heightened proprioception (your body's knowledge of its position in space).

Improved Posture: Good posture reduces pain, improves hormonal balance, reduces headaches, boosts your energy levels, increases your lung capacity and protects your spine. This isn't even half of the story regarding posture.

Better protection and recovery from injury: It's pretty simple. Whether you're working out, playing a sport, skiing, mountain biking, doing yard work, washing dishes or cleaning your house, your body draws strength, power and endurance from your abdominal and core muscles. A body without strong core and abdominal muscles is like a house without a foundation.

Improved digestive function: Strong core and abdominal muscles will almost immediately increase motility. This will eventually help reduce abdominal bloating and discomfort. Additionally, a well-toned core and abdomen will improve spinal alignment, which will in turn improve nerve function from your spine to your digestive tract.

Training your core doesn't have to be complicated. Here are the five best exercises to begin training your abs and core.

To clarify what the core musculature actually includes, we're talking about the muscles of the hips and pelvic region. The first three exercises are recommendations of Stuart McGill Ph.D., the leading expert in spinal biomechanics.

The "CAT-CAMEL": Get on all fours and then flex (round your back) and then extend (lower your back) gently and only as far as comfort allows. No more than 10 reps.

The "Bird-Dog": Get on all fours and extend opposite arm and leg out for 10 seconds on each side. First do a set of six reps, then four reps and finally three reps. Rest 30 seconds between each set and keep your hips square to the floor.

The "McGill Curl-Up": Lay down in a supine position with one leg out, one leg bent and both hands placed under the arch of your lower back. Lift your upper back off the floor while making sure that you do not tuck your chin. Follow the same repetition scheme as for the "Bird-Dogs."

The "Modified Side Plank": Lay on your side with your knees bent and hips forward, while supported up on your elbow. Make sure that your upper arm is at a right angle to the floor. Also keep your down shoulder active and not shrugging toward your ear. Raise your hip off the floor while keeping it in slight forward rotation. Follow the same rep scheme on each side as the two previous exercises.

The "Modified Bridge": Lay on your back with feet flat on the floor, knees bent, hips up and arms down at your sides with palms down. With hips forward slowly lift one foot 1-2 inches off of the ground for one to five seconds. Perform two to three sets of 10 reps. Make sure you keep your glutes tight, abs tight and don't sink your hips. If you feel lower back pain, stop immediately and stick with the first four exercises for two weeks and then try to add the "Modified Bridge" in again. Your lower back should be strong enough by then.

If you currently suffer from lower back pain, please check in with your doctor of chiropractic or MD before beginning any exercise program.

Please join me at 10 a.m., Saturday, March 9, for a free strength and conditioning class. You will learn in detail how to strengthen, shape and build your abdominal muscles, core muscles and arms.

This class will take you beyond the exercises in this article. You will also learn how to sculpt your arms. I'll be teaching this class in my SpineFit training studio located upstairs inside of FitRepublic at 2565 Lake Tahoe Blvd.

Healthy Tahoe is a look at health-related topics that shape our community and is made possible through content provided by our sponsors.