To the core

Exercises will strengthen your abdominals, but make sure your muscles work as a team
Top left: Lunge with rotation by Bob Stewart; Top right: Deep stretch with hips by Carol Stewart. Above: Reverse wood chops by the Stewarts. Below: The plank.Courtesy Tampa Bay Times

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.

First, exercising the abs is important for increasing strength and endurance, but you cannot remove that fat through ab exercises.

Second, abs are only one small part of what is called the core. The core 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.


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 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 trained well, 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 stabilize the rest of your body, reducing the risk of injury when you lift things.


Exercises

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.

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.


Reader Reaction
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.
COUPON OF THE WEEK