Core Values: Focus on Your Core FIRST

This article was originally written for and posted in my column, The Fitness Corner, in The Macon Telegraph.

Before the walls, roof and other components of a house can be constructed, the foundation must first be laid. All builders know that the foundation of a building is one of the most important — if not the most important — component of a strong structure.

If the foundation is solid and well built, the overall building will be strong. If the foundation is poorly constructed and consists of cheap materials, the building will be weak and less likely to withstand storms.

Our bodies are the same way. When it comes to anatomical function, our bodies function best when their foundations are solid. When I say foundation, though, I’m not talking about legs, as some might think. Rather, I’m talking about your core.

It’s Not Just About the ‘6-Pack’

When the word “core” is mentioned, the first thing that most of us likely think about is what we refer to as the six-pack, also known as the rectus abdominis.

Yes, the core includes these muscles, but it is actually composed of many more, including the obliques, erector spinae and transverse abdominis, to name a few. The main purpose of the core muscles is to provide stability to the lumbar spine, which provides stability to the rest of the body. If any of these are weak or unbalanced, at some point or another you will likely experience lower back pain.

Important Tips for Training your Core Muscles

With that said, there are two really important points to understand. The first point is that you need to make sure that your core is adequately activated. Think about it: Almost any time we move around, our core muscles are stabilizing our spine in many different ways. Because most of us sit for hours every day with our backs against chairs, those muscles are infrequently activated and are bound to weaken.

The second point is that your training method should be balanced. This means that just doing endless amounts of crunches or sit-ups isn’t going to cut it. These tend to overemphasize the coveted 6-pack abdominals while neglecting to adequately train the muscles that more directly support the back, such as the erector spinae. Training in this way will very likely result in injury down the road.

You Don’t Need a Lot of Strength in Your Abs, Per Se…

Another almost equally important point I should make is that your core muscles are much more in need of endurance training than strength training. Because the muscles are used in almost all bodily movements, they need to be able to stabilize as efficiently as possible throughout the day without giving out.

Exercises that train your core to hold contractions for increasingly longer periods of time will serve you better from a functionality standpoint. Unless you desire to make your core muscles bigger, it isn’t necessary to use extra weights for core exercise.

A Couple of The Best Core Exercises in My Book

Here are two simple core strengthening exercises that I recommend. They should be suitable for almost all fitness levels.

  • Plank: this is perhaps the best exercise in terms of balanced training around the core and how it builds endurance. With forearms and elbows on the ground and your legs stretched out straight behind you with toes on the ground, hold your body straight as a board and focus on your core.
  • Hip Lift: With your back flat on the ground and knees bent, lift your pelvis up as high as you can and hold the position. Focus on your lower back muscles and your hamstrings, which will be contracting as you hold the lift.

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