Today's Fitness: Core Strengthening

Today we are switching gears and bringing back a little fitness info to the Nest.  For those of you who know me and have been following along, you already know how strongly I feel about a fit mind and body.  There is too much of life to enjoy to be sidelined by preventable illness or injury.

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Our focus today is core strengthening.  This has become somewhat of a buzz word recently, but this concept has been used by athletes and coaches for years.  The ideology is simple... a strong core allows the transfer of energy to the smaller body parts that do the majority of the work.

Don’t think it’s for you?  It is.  Everyone (any age) can benefit from a stronger core.  As a reward for your efforts you will get better body control, better balance, better stability, reduced risk of injury, and overall improved performance.

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Core Strengthening

Keep in mind that this is not the method for getting that six pack they show on the infomercials, although it will help in the effort.  This is geared more toward long term fitness.  While many of the exercises will facilitate both goals, washboard abs have a great deal more to do with diet.

The core is made of the abdominal muscles, hip musculature, and the spinal musculature.  In order to have a strong core, all of these muscles must be developed and maintained.  You may have some favorite exercises you already perform to accomplish this task.  Here are a few tried and true:

Bridges

Prone - Face down on your toes and elbows.  Hold your core in tightly and keep in a straight position. Hold for 30-60 seconds.  Repeat.

Lateral - From the side- side of your foot and elbow touch the floor.  The rest of the body is in a straight line.  Squeeze and hold your core for 30-60 seconds.  Repeat.

Supine - Face up- soles, head and shoulders touching floor.  Raise hips up in the air and keep body in straight line.  Squeeze and hold your core/glutes for 30-60 seconds. Repeat.

Crunches - we all know what these are.  Be sure to use your abdominal muscles to raise your upper body.  Imagine a tennis ball under your chin so you don’t pull your neck forward.  The idea is to lift your shoulders off of the floor.

Supermans- from the floor face down, stretch arm and opposite leg straight out and lift 6 inches.  Hold for 5 seconds.  Perform with opposite arm and leg.  Repeat for desired repetitions.

Do not be fooled by the insane amount of fitness offerings on the TV.  You already have everything you need to get where you want to go.  Excellent core strength can be achieved with a floor and your body weight.  However, if you want to have some options you can add a few tools that you may already have.  I like to incorporate an exercise ball, a medicine ball, and an ‘ab roller’.  I am amazed at what these simple and inexpensive tools can provide.  One disclaimer:  the ‘ab roller’ is not for everyone.  This may be challenging for a beginner and could cause some back pain or injury.  Use with caution.  On the flip side, if used properly... Holy Cow!

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A few more tips:

I have not been able to find any conclusive research to show that performing ab work daily is any more beneficial than 3-4 times per week.  Don’t feel tied to ab work or you may be more likely to give up.

Vary the exercises that you perform to strengthen your core.  This will keep your muscles stimulated and relieve your boredom with the same routine.

Use things like the exercise ball, medicine ball, or balance board as one of the contact points in your exercise.  This will improve your stability and balance.

Always stretch!  Flexibility is equally important to your core as strength.

As always, the fitness goal you should have for yourself is to maintain a healthy body composition (body fat ratio and lean muscle mass), flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness.  This will lead to many healthy years ahead.