Question: I hear a lot about working the core, but I’m not sure why this is important.
Answer: The core is a group of muscles that stabilize the spine and hips and includes the abdomen, back, glutes (buttocks) and upper legs.
Some people erroneously think of the abdominal muscles only when they refer to the core. Yes, the abs are part of the core, but that’s not all.
Think of the body’s core muscles as a machine, each part working in unison with all other parts — top core muscles working with lower core muscles to provide strength and stability. Without a strong core, one would struggle to perform even some basic functions.
That’s why it’s so important that you strengthen core muscles as part of your fitness program. There are several options to help develop and maintain a strong core. One common and effective exercise is the plank (balancing the body on elbows and toes with face toward the floor).
Here are three others:
- Practice good posture – Yep, this modest change, often suggested by mothers, can make a big difference. Start by simply sitting up straight or pulling the belly button in toward your back (remember to keep breathing).
Benefit: This helps keep the back in alignment, improves posture, and, in some cases, helps relieve back discomfort.
- Bridge – Lie on your back (supine) on a mat, your arms straight along the side of your legs. Bend your legs while keeping your feet flat on the mat. Your upper body also remains on the mat. Slowly lift your butt while keeping knees, shoulders and head in alignment. While breathing, hold the bridge for 5 seconds and slowly lower back to floor. Aim for two sets of 8-10 reps. To add difficulty, I stack one foot on my knee and do bridges using one leg. If you choose this option, remember to work both legs. Benefit: Stretches hip flexors and works butt and hamstring muscles. Bridges are commonly see in Yoga classes.
- Side Plank – If you have a strong upper body, side planks (also used in Yoga) are a good exercise to work the core (and arms). Because of the complexity of this exercise, I’ve included a short video.
Things to avoid: Holding breath, dropping hips and/or head and shoulders, placing hands too close together, and holding position to long (may cause shoulder/muscle strain).As your core becomes stronger, you can incorporate other core exercises, such as full planks, add stability balls, BOSU, etc.Before beginning any fitness program, get clearance from your doctor.Until next time, I wish you good health, joy and wellness!