Ensuring you have a strong core is not only important when you are running or exercising, it is also helpful in making everyday life easier.
In the past the goal was to get aesthetically pleasing washboard ‘abs’ by performing hundreds of sit-ups a day or by using one of those late-night infomercial products which guarantees to give you rock-hard abs in literally minutes. (Even though I’m sure those people in the ads have never used the apparatus in question in their lives).
But in recent years the focus has shifted towards what is known as ‘core conditioning’, which is basically activating the deeper muscles of your trunk – these include the deep abdominal muscles, back muscles and can also include the gluteals and hip flexors which help to stabilise and control the pelvis. Your core muscles work together to stabilise and support your spine.
The shift in attitude came because it was decided there was real benefit in terms of injury prevention, improving posture and overall athletic performance by strengthening the core.
In basic terms it was decided there was no point having great street appeal, if I can borrow some real estate parlance, only to enter the dwelling and find the roof was falling in because it lacked the right structural elements to support the facade.
That is, there’s no point having awesome chiselled abs on the outside when you are weak on the inside and can’t stand up straight with good posture to show them off.
I hurt my back not long after having my second child and I’m sure it was caused from a combination of poor posture, not switching on my core to lift my kids and overdoing it in the exercise department before I had regained good core control.
There are lots of different exercises you can perform to improve your core strength. These can start from merely learning to switch on your core muscles again after injury or after having a baby and slowly progressing the exercises as your strength increases. Learning to ‘brace your abs’ with each strength exercise you perform or by doing so if you are lifting etc in everyday life has also been shown to have real benefit in this department.
Pilates seemed to highlight the benefits of working the core muscles and it has proven very successful for a lot of people and I certainly could see the benefit from the classes I did.
I love the plank. It is great for all the core muscles. I was however startled to learn in my travels that the world record for a plank hold is something ridiculous like three hours and seven minutes. Don’t worry – you don’t have to do that to make a difference. Just start off with some short holds with good technique and build up to longer holds as you improve.
I researched some of the other most popular core conditioning exercises and here are some examples: Ab curls, which you can do on a Swiss fitball or just lying flat, glut bridge, supermans, V-sits, bicycle crunches, prone back extension and something called a Turkish Get-Up, which one of my friends who is ridiculously good at Crossfit told me about. It looked way too complicated for me – involving a range of movements – but apparently is very good for the core as well as other muscles of your body.