Strengthen Your Core
“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.” Joseph H. Pilates
The trunk of your body, also known as your “core,” is what gives you most of your strength and equilibrium.
Your core is attached to your legs and arms, and includes both your abdominals and your lower-back muscles.
As a result, your body relies on your core for every move it makes. Strengthening your core, as you might imagine, is an extremely important component to a well-rounded fitness program.
Although strengthening your core can help you achieve a nice, flat stomach, it also provides many other important benefits.
You depend on your core muscles to do everything from swinging a tennis racquet to lifting the groceries.
The core is vital to your ability to walk, to stand, to lift, and to do just about anything you want to do. It is what enables you to bend over without falling, as well as jump and land on both feet.
A strong core is essential to stabilizing your body and keeping it in balance, and allows you to function athletically.
Keeping your core strong helps improve your posture, making you look and feel taller, stronger, and more coordinated.
A strong core also helps you move gracefully and is instrumental to preventing lower-back pain and injuries.
Finally, exercising your core aids digestion, improves bowel function, and reduces incontinence.
Core Anatomy 101
In order to properly strengthen and firm your core muscles, it’s important to exercise all of the following muscle groups:
1) Rectus Abdominis: These are probably what most people would refer to as the “six-pack” or the “upper and lower abdominals.” They start at the point where the rib cage meets (also known as the sternum) and ends at the pubic bone. These muscles specifically help flex the spine and support bending and rotation.
2)External Oblique and Internal Oblique Muscles: These are two groups of muscles that work together.
The external oblique muscles stretch from the side of your rib cage and extend down to the hipbone, while the internal oblique muscles are attached from the bottom of the rib cage down to your pubic bone.
In essence, these muscles “wrap” your torso and provide you with stability when you twist, turn, and lean.
3) Transverse Abdominis: These muscles reside beneath all of the other abdominal muscles. They are very deep and are hard to reach with conventional crunches.
Yet, they are extremely important in maintaining a healthy core. They are instrumental in stabilizing your core and spine, and help prevent injury when you lift heavy objects or exercise.
4)Lower Back: The deep muscles of the lower back are responsible for keeping the body erect when sitting or standing.
The erector spinae muscles are the strongest muscles in the back and take on most of the work. In order to strengthen your core, you can take an abdominals class or core exercise class.
Also, you might want to try Pilates, which tends to focus heavily on developing core strength, as well as the overall strength and flexibility of your whole body.
Or you could just do some core exercises at home. The good thing about core training is that, other than a mat, you don’t really need any equipment to exercise your muscles.
Sample Core Exercises Just as with strength training, there are hundreds of exercises you can do to strengthen your core.
The following sample exercises target each of the muscle groups mentioned earlier. All four of these exercises can be done on a mat on the floor.
The Basic Crunch—Rectus Abdominis: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head. (Refer to Figure: Basic Crunch 1.) Do not lock the fingers or use your hands to lift, but instead use them to lightly support your head. Throughout this exercise, keep your head and neck relaxed and your navel pulled toward your spine. Inhale. As you release your breath, lift your shoulder blades off the floor by squeezing your rib cage toward your pelvis (imagine your rib cage sliding toward the pelvis). (Refer to Figure: Basic Crunch 2.) Once your shoulder blades are a couple of inches off the floor, pause and then inhale as you lower back down to the ground. Repeat for twelve repetitions. Work up to twenty-five repetitions.
To be continued……