When you think of core, is the first thing that pops into your mind a six-pack set of abs? If so, you are not alone. Many people want washboard abs and are convinced that to have them means cranking out the crunches and will do whatever it takes to try to attain them.
What most people don’t realize is that our core serves a more important function aside from esthetic appearance. Like the trunk of a tree or the center of an apple, it is essential to the strength and structure of our body. Can you imagine how pitiful a tree would look without its solid trunk? Would it even resemble a tree? We also look and feel “off” whenever our core muscles are not utilized properly.
We require our core muscles in every activity we do, from vacuuming the floor to swinging a golf club. Our movements either stem from the core itself, or flow through it. Weak and inflexible core muscles inhibit our power from the legs and upper body. When you increase the strength from the center, you increase allover power in the rest of the muscles in the body.
Don’t simply hit the floor for countless sit ups; you not only need adequate (and properly executed) abdominal exercises like the ones I have mentioned in previous articles, you also need to strengthen the muscles of the lower back (also recognized as core muscles by some), the hips, and the hamstrings.
Another overlooked (albeit important) factor is stretching. Exercise is great for strengthening muscles, but in order to increase strength (and some believe power as well), you must stretch the muscles surrounding the core. Some stretches to try are those that stretch the hip flexors, hamstrings, lower back, piriformis, as well as lateral flexion stretches.
By strengthening the muscles that support the core (as well as the core muscles themselves), you make the entire body stronger. Exercise and flexibility will make daily tasks more manageable and help prevent injury. A strong core enables you to partake in mundane tasks such as bending down to tie your shoelaces to gardening with ease, as well as helping to counteract lower back stiffness from prolonged sitting at a desk job. If your day-to-day activities include lifting, bending, and twisting, a strong and flexible core is a must.
Some other activities that are optimized by a healthy midsection are any sports or exercise activities, daily housework, balance and stability exercises, and postural alignment.
While ripped abs are a nice reward for hard effort, the more important thing to keep in mind is a balanced body—starting with all of those stabilizing muscles surrounding (and making up) the core. So to recap, train not only the abdominal muscles, but also the muscles of the back and the hips and include stretching for flexibility. If a chiseled midsection is your goal, make sure to trim body fat through clean eating, some cardiovascular exercise, and of course weight training. This is a very basic outline for the benefits of core strengthening. For additional information or guidance please feel free to email me at [email protected]
Crystal Manjarres is the owner of One-On-One Fitness, a private personal training and Pilates studio for men and women on Marco Island. She is a Certified Personal Trainer, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Colon Hydrotherapist and Stott Pilates certified instructor. Her focus is “Empowering men and women of all shapes and sizes.” To send in a question, email [email protected], go to www.101FIT.com or www.PinkIslandFitness.com and 239-333-5771.