Linda Melone
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Best core exercises for women over 50

Words get thrown around in the fitness realm that become so commonplace no one dares to ask what the heck they even mean. We all assume everyone else knows, so it would be embarrassing to ask.  

Case in point: your core, as in, “I’m going to the gym to work my core.”

But what is this elusive thing we call the core?

We all know you need a strong one, right? Because if your core is weak, bad things can happen.

Like what? Oh, I don’t know, but goshdarnit you better be working on it or who knows what can happen!

Today, I’d like to make you smarter than the average bear by giving you a peek behind the scenes of your core, what it is, what it does and why you need to keep it strong, especially after 50.

If you think I’m about to plow straight ahead into a pile of yawn-worthy info, I promise to keep it as entertaining as humanly possible.

But here are a few of the most important core facts (see what I did there??) I think you should know:  

  1. The core and “abs” are not one and the same even though the terms are used interchangeably
  2. Nothing “automatically” strengthens your core, not even sitting on a fitness ball
  3. People can be rotten to the core, and no exercise can fix that

Let’s start with the first point.

Everyone talks about flat abs, but no one wants a flat core. Ask them why and they will look at their watch and suddenly remember an appointment and flee the scene. Trust me.

We focus on abs because it’s the aesthetic part of the torso. We want it flat, we want it lean and we want to be able to eat pizza and drink wine and still fit into our favorite jeans.

Not happening.

It’s the part you can’t easily hide, but it comprises only part of your core.    

                  NOTE: not your actual core

The core, on the other hand, is a multi-faceted creature, comprised of over 20 muscles, including the main one called the transverse abdominis (TA) muscle that wraps itself around your midsection like a giant boa constrictor girdle.

The various muscles attach to your lower back (which is why a weak core contributes to back pain) and basically tie your ribcage to your upper body and your pelvis to your lower body.

In short, if you posted your relationship status with your core on Facebook, you’d file it under “It’s complicated.”

Your core not only protects your spinal column but literally stabilizes your entire body.

So yeah, it’s nothing to sneeze at. Although your core engages when you sneeze. All you allergy sufferers get an accidental core workout during pollen season.

But unlike your abs, no one sees your core. People won’t come up to you and say, “Hey, your core is looking mighty fine.” And if they do, call the police.

Did you know your pelvic floor, the muscle you work when you do Kegels, is also part of your core? Yes, the action of contracting that muscle as if you’re trying to stop a urine flow is one of the primary core muscles.

In fact, your pee-stopping muscle must be engaged to properly activate your core.

Who knew?

These gems are exactly why you read my blogs. No one else is brave enough to talk about this stuff. We all walk around with flabby core muscles because we’re too embarrassed to discuss body parts involved with bathroom functions even if they’re literally holding us together!

Not me. At least not on paper. If you ever meet me in person and bring up this subject, though, I will deny everything and likely run out of the room.

I’m only courageous behind my computer. Out in the wild is a whole different story.

This brings me to the fitness ball myth and other ways we think we automatically engage our core. “Oh, I’ll just sit on a fitness ball and work my core all day!”

No, you won’t.

It’s one of the biggest fitness lies ever used to sell a piece of equipment.

You start out sitting up straight, maybe even engaging your pelvic floor. You bounce around a little, especially if you’re immature like me. 

Then the day wears on and your back gets tired. Your pelvic floor collapses into nothingness, you round your back and hunch over your desk because there’s zero support on the ball chair.

AmIright?

I know because I’ve done it. Seriously, if you like to use a ball chair alternate it with a regular chair every 20 minutes or so, and make sure you’re sitting on it with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Then engage your pee muscle. (By the way, I’m not saying fitness balls are useless, they’re absolutely great, but not for sitting for long periods.)

Finally we get to the big question: What really works, then??

Your best bet is by using a combination of exercises.

This brings us to everyone’s favorite exercise: planks.

And by favorite I mean most hated. But look…

Here’s the thing about planks: They’re usually safe (always check with your doc, of course) even for those with back pain because they do not involve flexion, the action involved in curling up as in a crunch.

As I’ve mentioned, I have osteoporosis in my spine. Crunches and any type of curling up motion may result in a very unpleasant result, such as breaking myself in half like a Kit Kat bar.

So planks.

Here’s my video to demonstrate the proper way to do them: PLANKS

NOTE: Side planks also work well. I promise to have a video up as soon as we uncover the camera amidst the rubble of our recent move.

Bird Dogs also work well, are usually safe for everyone (kneel on something soft if you have achy knees like me!) and involve balance, which we all need more of as we flip those calendar pages.

Here’s that video: BIRD DOGS

Do these two exercises three times a week and you’re off to a good start.

NOW YOU… Which core exercises do YOU like to do? Let me know in the comments section below… and please forward this post to your friends and share it on social networks if you enjoyed it. I could use the attention. 🙂

Other posts you may enjoy…

How to get back into the swing of things after a break

Best exercise routine for ageless muscles

#1 Reason why even fit women gain 8 lbs. during menopause (and how to fix it)

For other questions, feel free to email me at linda@lindamelone.com. I answer all my own mail so please give me time to respond!

Your Ageless Body Coach,

 

About the Author Linda Melone

Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.

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Leave a Comment:

Susan Weimer says

Hi Linda,

With the planks: how many reps? 1 or 2? I know they’re 3 times per week, but no one ever mentions reps.

thank you!

Reply
    Linda Melone says

    They’re a little different because it’s an isometric hold for a length of time, versus the typical 12 to 15x for a traditional exercise. Two to three times is fine, even one to start.

    Reply
Donna says

I gsined about 20 lbs during menopause. Its like i woke up one day and there it was right around my mid section. Not really but it happened fast. What can i do?

Reply
    Linda Melone says

    Hi Donna, that’s a huge question and the exact reason this website exists! Check out my newsletters and be sure to subscribe for the latest news. I blog every Monday and Thursday on topics related to weight loss and belly fat. You can also use the search box for specific questions. Also check out the Work With Me page for additional options. Hope that helps!

    Reply
Shelley Kath says

I absolutely LOVED this post! Great info….great writing and absolutely entertaining. Thank you so much! You clarified a lot for me in this. I just turned 60 and dealing with closing a diastasis recti problem that resurfaced when I tripped on IKEA bag straps. (long sad story) and hurt my foot so badly I couldn’t walk for 4 months. (9 years of ballet wasted 😉 ).
I had a huge DR after giving birth at 42 to a 9.5-pound baby boy back in 2000 that mostly closed in the years that followed. But when I tripped on the bag last year, it was a freak accident: I fell all wrong and boom, my stomach looked like I was pregnant again. So I am still dealing with the challenges of closing the DR via therapeutic yoga AND battling the new belly fat that comes with age…or so I am told. 😉 I am making progress but will still subscribe because I definitely learned something with your fun post.

Reply
    Linda Melone says

    Hi Shelley! Thanks so much for the kudos. I’ve never heard of DR “resurfacing” as the result of a fall! Who knew? It sounds like you have a great attitude and are on your way to fitter days 🙂 Thanks, again!

    Reply
Virginia says

How do I start if I can’t do a single plank? I’m a fit 65-year-old with a brown belt, working on my black belt, but my core muscles are extremely weak.

Reply
    Linda Melone says

    Wow, congrats on the brown belt! I was a karate student many moons ago myself. I’d start with a modified plank, leaning against a wall instead of down on the floor. Keep your forearms on the wall and lean into it, focusing on contracting your abdominals and timing yourself. Then do the same on a lower incline and work your way to modified planks on your knees.

    Reply
Linda purvis says

I have fractured my vertibray and want to know what for exercises I can do.

Reply
    Linda Melone says

    Hi Linda, I’d love to help but that’s a question for your physical therapist.

    Reply
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