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:
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.
It’s the part you can’t easily hide, but it comprises only part of your 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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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For other questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I answer all my own mail so please give me time to respond!
Your Ageless Body Coach,
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.