The fitness message is being heard and followed everywhere. Every day I see faithful walkers and even a few runners pounding the pavement. Treadmills and elliptical machines are humming away in the gym. Some of you are supplementing your cardio routines with weight machines and free weights. So, your hearts are getting fi t and your muscles are getting strong and toned. That’s great! But what are you doing for your core? (My what?) Oh – you mean my abs! Well, I occasionally do sit ups and crunches, so I’m good. Right?
You are on the right track, but there may be a better way. First of all, let’s defi ne “core”. More than just abdominal muscles, the core is actually the entire trunk of the body and includes the groin muscles, hip muscles, abdominal muscles, lower back muscles and the glute (or butt) muscles. Those muscles are called upon constantly to help us perform everything from our normal activities such as getting out of bed, tying our shoes, and standing up straight, to athletic pursuits such as riding a bicycle and swinging a golf club.
Will 20 crunches a day help in all those pursuits? Maybe a little, but if abdominal work is your only attempt at core fi tness, you are leaving most of those muscles behind. In our somewhat sedentary society full of work saving gadgets, we fi nd ourselves spending the majority of our time sitting in a flexed position. Think about how many hours a day you are sitting at a desk, at your computer, in your car, or in front of the TV. This prolonged state of “flexion” results in muscle imbalances. Muscles that are not called on too often become weak, and muscles that are in a flexed position for long periods of time become tight and inflexible. Dr. Vladamir Janda, a physician from the Czech Republic, was the first person to document this type of muscle imbalance, and he calls it Lower Crossed Syndrome. It’s basically the combination of tight hip flexors and a tight lower back, paired with weak abdominals and weak glutes. This combination leads to an excessive arching of the lower back (swayback), a flabby abdomen and a flat butt due to weakness in the glutes. The most dangerous consequence of this condition is excessive stress on the lower back, often resulting in pain.
So, in order to get us out of that constant state of flexion, we need to introduce exercises that put us in different positions while working the entire group of core muscles. There are many possibilities, but these 4 basic moves, each with some variations, can get you on your way to better core fitness.
Core strength is essential for functional fitness – that is, enabling our body to safely and efficiently perform daily tasks. And when we attempt athletic pursuits, it becomes even more important. Is the power of a golf swing, for example, generated from only the shoulders and arms? No! It comes from the leg, hip, abdomen and back muscles. Core muscles transfer power generated in the lower body to the shoulders and arms.
Core strength results in a more efficient body. It’s about being able to safely do what you want to do, and doing it longer. Be sure and add core strengthening to your fitness regimen.
Fig. 1 - Bridge
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet shoulder width apart. First, try to isolate those glute muscles by squeezing your glutes (not the whole leg – just the glutes). Now, raise yourself up so that you are in a straight line from shoulders to knees. Keep squeezing the glutes! For a balance challenge, take arms off the fl oor. For even stronger glutes and more balance, straighten one leg and have all weight on the down leg. Repeat with each leg 5 times.
Fig. 2 - Plank
Muscles: Transverse abdominals and lower back
Begin on forearms and knees. Curl toes under and lift and straighten legs, lowering body into a plank pose with weight on toes and forearms. Tighten abs and hold at least 10 seconds. To advance, straighten arms and place hands on fl oor and hold longer than 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Fig 3. - Hip Rolls
Muscles: Oblique Abdominals
Lie on back with legs bent and raised to table top position (90 degree angle). Arms are out to the sides. Lower your legs slowly to the right, keeping arms and shoulders fl at on the fl oor. Slowly return legs to the start, and then lower them to the left. Repeat 5 times on each side.
Fig. 4 - Side Plank
Muscles: Oblique abdominals, transverse abdominals, lower back, hips and glutes
Lie on your left side with weight on your forearm, right leg stacked on left. Raise body off of fl oor, keeping weight on left foot and left forearm. Hold at least 10 seconds. To modify, bend legs and raise up on left knee and forearm. To advance, keep legs straight and arm straight, weight supported on feet and hand. Repeat 3 times on each side.
Def. 1 -The Core
More than just abdominal muscles, the core is actually the entire trunk of the body and includes the groin muscles, hip muscles, abdominal muscles, lower back muscles and the glute (or butt) muscles.