Let’s say you have decided to “get fit”, or even “get more fit”. You are committed, and you want to start after a long hiatus or maybe just a short one.
What is the best action to take?
Let me make the case for starting with your core.
But before we do, let’s take a look at what sometimes happens. In a class or even when you are working out on your own, “doing your abs” can be an afterthought. It often comes at the end of a workout, and it may not be a particularly appealing activity. Doing abdominal exercises can actually make you feel kind of bad, or even nauseous.
On the other hand, there’s the group that’s obsessed with getting flat abs, and perhaps doing endless crunches of various sorts is the priority. This is what I would call “cosmetic fitness”. It’s where working one body part to the exclusion of others is the goal because you want your body to look a certain way.
In actual fact, your core, not just the abdominal muscles, is at the heart of everything you do.
Let me explain the difference between your abdominals and your core, just in case you don’t know. Your abdominal muscles cover the front and sides of your abdomen. When they contract, they scrunch your midsection and bring your torso toward the front of your legs, or the same move but on a diagonal.
Your CORE is there to protect your spine. Your spine, as you might imagine, carries a boatload of nerves down your vertebral column so that you can function in a coordinated manner. As such, your CORE includes muscles are in the front of your torso (your abs), along the sides, and all down your back.
Here’s a few facts about the CORE that you may not have known or thought about.
- Total body strength is limited when the core cannot support it. In other words, your core needs to be able to protect your spine by providing stability around it when you move. If it can’t do that, your body knows not to do too much. Pretty cool, huh? What that means is that if your spine isn’t stable, you can’t do as much, AND the coordination of your movements will be compromised. On top of that, you are at greater risk of injury because you will tend to be compensating in order to get through your life’s activities.
- When you think about it, your core is located between your upper and lower body. That means it is key for transferring movement from the lower body to the upper and vice versa. This means that every time you tilt forward or back, lean from side to side, or rotate your torso, your muscles need to be able to stabilize against these movements. The idea is to be able to move without causing too much strain on the vertebral column around your spine. (Even yoga is carefully designed to create lengthening and strengthening while letting the core do its job of stabilizing the spine).
So, here’s a couple of exercises that use your core to stabilize the movement. You will feel it!
1. Kneeling forward press.
Set yourself tall while on both knees. You can kneel on a soft surface like a folded towel, exercise mat or Airex pad (shown). Grab a weight with both hands that is not super heavy, something in the range of 4-8 pounds. Stay tall, and make sure not to arch your back.
Start with the weight close to your chest about shoulder height (shown below). Push the weight out from your chest going straight ahead, at shoulder height (not shown). Repeat this motion 10 times, making sure not to sway forward or back. Then, start close to your chest again and push the weight out front at shoulder height, but to the side (shown below). Bring it back in and then go to the other side. Alternate the push 10 times. In addition to feeling your arms working, you will feel your core and hips keeping you stable through out these exercises.
Kneeling Forward Press – Start
Kneeling Forward Press – To Side
2. Chair plank with toe taps.
Get in a plank position with your forearms on a sturdy chair. Make sure your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Once you can hold this posture for at least 10 seconds, stay in that position while tapping one toe directly out to the side and then bring it back in. Tap the other toe out to the other side and bring it back. Keep alternating toe taps to the side. Do not move or tilt your torso as you do this. Work up to 10 times for each leg. You will feel your abs, back, and shoulders all supporting this movement!
These two exercises are a good way to connect with your core, and appreciate what it does to keep you stable as you create movement in various directions. On top of that, they are examples of how to lay the foundation for an exercise program that will produce good quality movement for you.
All the best,
© 2018-2019 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.