Many people mistakenly believe that core training is just another name for abdominals and continue to perform ab crunch after ab crunch in the fervent hope they'll lose flab over their abs. Wrong on two counts: Exercising the abs remains important for increasing strength and endurance, but you cannot remove that fat via ab exercises. The abdominal muscle and the fat lying on top of that muscle are two separate entities. Even if you were to do 500 crunches a day, you would not be losing the fat. The body fat on top of the muscle can only be lost through full body exercises, as in aerobic exercise, and, of course, proper diet. Abs are only one small part of what is called the core. The core actually refers to the center of the body (trunk or torso), known as the power center, which is where all movement originates.
To develop a strong core, you need to condition a variety of muscles that stabilize the spine from the pelvis to the shoulders: Abdominals, hips, gluteals and back all need to contract together and work as a team. When walking, standing, sitting, exercising or reaching and dragging furniture around, you can thank those core muscles for being strong as they play a critical role in preventing lower back injures and chronic pain. And, if you're playing golf or my favorite sport, tennis, you definitely need a strong core to hit strong shots. Because developing a strong core engages more than one muscle group, the trend for core exercises today is to include more functional training in a workout. You can do this by simply adding exercises to your routine that will target many muscles working together as a unit rather than isolating and targeting a specific muscle or muscle group.
Abdominal bracing is a technique used while performing core exercises, however you do not need to limit abdominal bracing to just these movements. Practicing abdominal bracing during the day, whether standing or sitting, will strengthen muscles that will help to stabilize your body when you begin to lose balance. Contract abdominals, bringing the navel in toward the spine, keeping spine in neutral alignment. Hold 10 to 15 seconds but do not hold your breath. Breathe normally.
Benefits of core training
• Core training increases range of motion by providing lower back stabilization. Strong core muscles help remove unnecessary pressure from the lower back, freeing up muscles and ligaments to move through their full range of motion, increasing your flexibility.
• Correct posture requires a strong core. Weakened core muscles may cause postural imbalances such as a forward-leaning posture. Poor posture places excessive stress on the muscles and joints, which can lead to pain in all planes of motion.
• Balance and stability can be thrown off if you have weak core muscles, as it is very difficult to maintain balance if your midsection is weak. Balancing exercises are included in a core workout; yoga poses provide excellent balance workouts for the core.
• Lower back pain is reduced when core muscles are well-trained, as they act as an internal weight belt, providing more support for the back muscles, reducing strain on the spine.
• Core training increases power for sports, as a strong core base provides support for the torso, enabling it to generate power to be transferred from the trunk to the shoulders, arms and legs.
• A strong core will help you stabilize the rest of your body, reducing the risk of injury when you lift things.
, The Plank
This basic core stabilization exercise works abdominals, back, glutes and shoulder stabilizer muscles. Begin in a pushup position. Supported with forearms and toes on the floor, contract abdominals, keeping torso in a straight line from head to toes. Without sagging, hold position, building to 30 seconds or a minute. Beginners, hold 10 seconds. To increase intensity, lift one arm or one foot off the floor and maintain correct posture for 10 seconds with each lift.
m Reverse Wood Chop
This exercise targets core muscles and the lower body. In a squat position, hold a medicine ball or a weight beside your right hip. Keeping arms straight (relaxed elbows), bring the ball up, diagonally across your body, until you are standing and the ball is across opposite shoulder.
, Lunge With Rotation
This strengthens legs, hips and torso. Keeping back straight, abdominals contracted and hips facing forward, step forward with left foot into a lunge position, holding medicine ball or weight about chest-height. Keeping hips forward, rotate ball or weight to the left side, arms fully extended. Return ball to original position. Step out with right foot, rotating ball or weight to the right side. You will be using your hips and legs to stabilize the lunge position. A modification would be to hold the ball closer to the body when rotating. Turning with arms straighter (elbows never locked) will increase intensity. Because shoes offer more support than being barefoot, removing shoes will engage muscles that stabilize the ankle and you will add a balance exercise to the movement.
Deep Stretch for Hips .
Lying on your back, with knees slightly bent, place strap under arch of right foot. Holding strap with both hands, bring leg straight up ( a hamstring and back stretch) without locking knees. Hold strap in left hand, relaxing right arm to side, shoulder-height. Turning head to the right, to keep shoulders on floor, slowly bring right leg over left hip until you feel a comfortable stretch.
If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at [email protected]