Core fitness and core strengthening provide the cornerstones on which all fitness activities are based. Yet until a few year ago, core training was a well-kept secret known only to dancers and gymnasts, who were totally unaware the routines they’d been doing all their lives were about to go mainstream.
No one had been trying to keep core fitness a secret. Joseph Pilates had developed one formalized system of core training 100 years ago. But for the most part, the only people who had any interest in Pilates training were dancers who were trying to rehabilitate injuries. Other athletes trained with weights and did regular running routines to develop and maintain peak fitness. In the 1960s and 1970s, if you trained in a gym you went there to lift weights.
CORE FITNESS PART 1
In the early 1980s the aerobics craze took over the fitness scene. “Get your heart rate up” was the new mantra. The cardiovascular focus was necessary ? arteriosclerosis, heart disease, and obesity were on the rise – but the types of aerobics activities being done were problematic. A wave of aerobics class-related injuries developed, with shin splints, metatarsal stress fractures, and blown-out rotator cuffs heading the list. High-impact aerobics turned out to be not the way to go.
Today – even though modified aerobics classes can be fun and provide a good cardiovascular boost – running, fast walking, cycling, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines are the standards for aerobic fitness.
So, all you need to do is lift weights and do aerobics and you’re good, right? Wrong. What’s missing – the key ingredient that makes all the difference – is strengthening the core.
The core is a group of flat muscles that lie deep within the body. You can’t see your core muscles. They include deep abdominal muscles; small muscles that rotate, tilt, and flex small groups of vertebras; and deep muscles that stabilize, flex, extend, and rotate your pelvis and hips.
Core muscles are just that – the core of your body. And like a nuclear core reactor, these muscles are the power plant that drives the activities of everything else that your body is doing. Core muscles – when trained and strong – provide a firm platform, a solid internal foundation, from which all movements and actions can flow gracefully and purposefully.
Your core muscles are your body’s center of physical activity. If you were a dancer or gymnast as a young person, you’ll remember being told to “work from your center”. Core strengthening and stabilization is a key component of all dance and gymnastics training. Dancers train every day to begin every movement from the center of the body. They know that all movement “starts from the center”. Every leg extension, every pointed foot, every sweeping arm motion originates from the trunk and pelvis.
In gymnastics, every back handspring, every balance beam dismount, every giant circle on the high bar originates from a powerful center. The explosive forces a gymnast generates to hurtle through the air begin with a strong, dynamic, powerful set of core muscles.
This once-exclusive knowledge of the power of the center is now well-known and wildly popular. And, the popularity of core strengthening is due to its critical importance, impact, and long-lasting value. The benefits of core training are profound –
- Injury rehabilitation
- Injury prevention
- Improved posture
- Improved circulation
- Improved balance and body awareness
- Improved overall strength and stamina
- Increased self-esteem
10 Burning Core Exercises – Video
CORE FITNESS PART 2
Without a trained set of core muscles, bad things may happen. In The Second Coming, the poet Yeats said, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”.
Physically, when the “centre cannot hold” things literally do fall apart. An entire litany of complaints – back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle problems – may now be directly linked to weakness of core muscles. This is truly remarkable information for both athletes and the physicians and physical therapists who are treating them.
Certain injuries seem to last forever, never getting better. People may have chronic back and neck pain for years. Others say, “I’ve always had weak ankles” or “my hips are always tight”. Shin splints, knee soreness, restricted movement in one or both shoulders – all may be connected to a weak set of core stabilizers.
The very good news is that pain reduction and overall improvement are now actually possible with core strengthening. The fitness literature is filled with case studies of clients and patients – many of them in their 50s – who have achieved significant decreases in levels of pain and significant improvement in a variety of activities and sports skills. And, of course, their making huge gains in flexibility, balance, coordination, and stamina.
For the most part, these many benefits occur over time. Training core muscles is not only physically challenging, it’s mentally challenging as well. Core strengthening exercises are subtle – all the action is happening deep within your body.
From a superficial point of view, it’s not at all like doing a bench press or a squat. Of course, the stronger your core is, the stronger and more powerful your bench presses and squats will be down the road! Your form will be vastly improved, and there’ll be much less stress and strain on your joints, ligaments, and tendons because your core will be active and strong. And that’s the whole point.
The most important thing about doing core exercises is doing them correctly. Not that we intend to be sloppy and have bad form in our other workouts. But you can have bad form – training incorrectly – when you’re lifting weights or running, and still achieve strength gains and cardiovascular improvement. Eventually, though, incorrect form will catch up with you in the form of an unpleasant injury.
But with core strengthening, if the exercises aren’t done precisely, paying close attention, you’re just wasting your time. You have to focus in order to activate these deep muscles – you have to make them work. Isometric contractions are often involved, and in order for these to be doing anything positive you have to be actively making them happen. Again, it’s not like moving a weight – you can see the weight moving through space. With the core, all the action is going on below the surface.
You get better at doing core exercises as you go along. Patience is definitely required – and the rewards are so great! Also, the exercises look simple and straightforward – but doing them with focus, concentration, and good form is not so easy.
Even real athletes start with the basics when they begin core training, and the basics are the recommended starting place for everyone. Doing Level 1 core exercises retrains your brain and your body. You’re teaching your body to be smart again. As your sessions continue, your core muscles learn to talk with each other, exchanging information about “how much” and “when” and “over here” and “over there”. Complex networks of nerves and muscles become renewed and reactivated.
Jackie’s 20 minutes Core Training Workout Warm Ups – Video
Core exercises that were very difficult initially, particularly those involving balance and stability, begin to feel more natural. You begin to develop a new grace and fluidity. You notice you’re getting stronger in subtle ways. You feel more connected to the ground, more centered, when you walk. And, one fine day, you notice that you haven’t been thinking about your old shoulder or ankle pain for quite some time. Pretty great! Core strengthening provides wonderful benefits for a person, and a terrific workout, too!