Getting to the Core of the “Core”

We hear about “core training” so often in the fitness world, yet few people understand what this means. Sometimes people say it in reference to wanting to reduce their waist size, other times it’s used in conjunction with a sport. Most people equate the word “core” with the “abs”, but the core is more than creating a six pack and doing crunches.

Do you remember that song, “Dem Bones,” from childhood? The lyrics go something like, “ the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, the hip bone’s connected to the back bone,” etc. Little did you know you were getting a simple anatomy lesson at such a young age. The hips, low back, and abdominal area connect the upper body to the lower body. All these bones connect and impact each other. The upper and lower bodies work in together during all movement. Pay attention to how you walk. As your right leg comes forward, your left arm swings forward and vice versa.

The core muscles of the trunk work to help us maintain posture, relieve some chronic pain, minimize risk of injury, and control movements. Core exercises generally work the muscles that stabilize the spine, pelvic area, and shoulders. In order to move efficiently, the muscles in these areas need to be able to work by themselves in isolation, but also learn to work together to transfer movement to the legs and arms. Think of these muscles running from the shoulder through the hip and into the legs as a chain where each link connects the other. If one link is missing or impaired, it affects how the rest of the chain moves. The arms and legs really don’t want to lift heavy things and move by themselves! They need the trunk muscles to help.

Most core exercises can be done with little to no equipment. To design your program, first consult your physician and consider meeting with a professional trainer. It’s important to take past injuries or accidents into consideration. Create a program that provides exercises specific to your activity, whether it is for sport or everyday life. To list all the exercises to train these muscles would make for a small novel. These two exercises tend to fit many peoples’ needs and help to reconnect the body.

To train the abdominal muscles more effectively, begin to work on a basic plank. The most basic form of the plank starts lying on the stomach then propping your body up on your elbows and toes or knees. The body should form a straight line from the head down to the feet or knees. Hold this position for a certain amount of time; start with 20 – 30 seconds.

Photo by Michelle Wright

To get the feeling for good form with the plank, use a broom handle and place it on your back. It should touch your body on the back of your head, between your shoulder blades and at your tail bone. This exercise takes some mental focus as you need to consciously focus on holding your abdominals in tight. Variations of the plank include holding on your hands instead of elbows, holding on your side, alternating lifting a leg or arm and hold for longer. Increase time and/or intensity as your body feels comfortable.

In order to work the hips and get those buns of steel, lie flat on your back with your knees bent at about 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. Lift up your toes so your heels stay in contact with the ground. With your toes up in the air, lift and lower your hips slowly by squeezing your butt cheeks. You should feel your butt tighten. Hold the position at the top for a few seconds to get the feel in the right muscle group. Play around with this one. Be sure you feel it in your butt and not the back of your thighs. Hold at the top for longer to get the right feeling.

Photo by Adrian Valenzuela

Once you feel comfortable with isolation movements, begin using multi-directional exercises such as lunges with rotation into your program. Progress the exercises as you build strength. Incorporate core training on a regular basis throughout your workout program. Continue to find the exercises specific to your body and your needs.

Lisa Martin founded the Girls on the Run program in Howard County in 2009. Lisa is AFAA & NSCA certified, has more than 15 years of personal training experience, and practices a multidimensional wellness approach at her studio, Salvere Health & Fitness. Lisa says that one of the best things about being in the health and fitness industry is watching people accomplish things they never thought possible.