When I first entered the fitness industry many years ago, the term core strength was hardly used. We really didn’t understand what it meant, nor its importance. Thankfully, we have learned so much, and now core work is woven into most fitness classes. Even still, changes occur slowly, and some folks may still be unclear as to what the hubbub is all about. Let me explain.
Our core muscles are what keep our organs in their place. What we feel are our abdominal (stomach) and Erector Spinae (back) muscles, but many internal muscles are involved. We are only as strong as our core muscles, meaning, you can have great bicep (arm) muscles, but if you can’t stand without wobbling, you are unstable and weak. Our strength starts deep within and moves out. When we are younger, core muscles allow us to do anything better (fill in the blank for any sport). When we age, core strength prevents us from losing our balance and falling. In either case, a strong core prevents injuries by providing muscular balance. Therefore, we all need to incorporate core work into our weekly routines if we desire overall health.
I encourage you to test your core by doing a plank. Lay face down on the floor and then get up on your elbows. Lift your body off the ground, and lengthen your legs. Balance your body on your toes and elbows, concentrating on keeping your rear end level, not up in the air. You are striving for one straight line (your neck and spine will be aligned). Now pay attention. What do you feel? If you feel your lower back, this is your weak spot. If you feel your abs, you need to work them more. If feel both equally, you are relatively balanced, which is good. However, how long can you hold the position? This will let you know how strong you are. If your core muscles are weak, you will start to shake very early, and you will need to bring your knees down. If you can hold for a minute or longer, then you are in pretty good shape. Every one of us can improve our core, and I’ll offer up some suggestions for you to build your core strength and create better balance:
1. Practice yoga. Yoga is a fantastic way to stretch, strengthen, and stabilize! Attend a class or get a DVD, but weave in yoga several times a week.
2. Lift hand weights instead of using a machine. Machines offer support for you, but hand weights force you to work your core. Take any muscle, and you work harder when you have to balance!
3. Use the exercise ball and Bosu ball often. These are great tools for working your core and are worth the investment of having one at home.
4. Watch your posture. By standing or sitting up nice and tall, you will engage your core.
5. Be aware of your core. Even when you are driving your car or truck, you can tuck your abs in (think of pressing your lower back firm against the seat) and have your core involved.
6. Weave in floor work. We are striving for balance, so always work opposing muscles. If you do sit ups, do backups.
I have two fitness books with lots of pictures and helpful instructions on how to help you work out safely and effectively. In addition, I recently released three workout DVD’s designed specifically to stretch, strengthen, and stabilize your body. Order your copies today: