Core- like an Apple? Well, no..... well, maybe!
The core of an apple is usually discarded but the remainder of a good apple should be hard and crisp. The core of your body needs to be tight and strong.
The term 'Core' has become very popular in exercise jargon. Do you know what your Core muscles are? The definition of the anatomical Core is the Muscles, Bones, Cartilage, and Ligaments involved in movement of the trunk, or the area from the shoulders to the hips.The Core encompasses the Abdominal muscles as well as additional muscles and all supporting structures.
Everyone can benefit from Core training as we use our Core in every movement, from walking, reaching, standing, sitting, and balancing. Core training is a critical component of every workout, no matter where you are in your fitness journey.
The Core allows us to:
bend forward and side to side (flexion).
stand back up and bend backwards. (extension) .
twist to the left and right (rotation).
pull your belly button to your spine (commonly used directions by trainers to instruct stabilization and tightening of your abdominal muscles).
holds your spine stable during movement (spinal stability)
A strong Core helps to:
improve stability, mobility and balance
Increase and maintain performance in exercise or Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)
help breathing (Core muscles are connected to the diaphram).
lift heavy objects
The Latin and Greek names used for body anatomy are greek :) to most of us just like official plant names are rarely used by backyard gardeners. Non-professionals are more familiar with the lay terms for groups of structures such as Core, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Rotator Cuff, Abdominals, etc.
Core training can be accomplished anywhere with minimal space and no equipment and there are variations to meet every fitness level. You don't have to achieve six pack abs to have a tight strong core. Many people cannot produce visible six pack abs due to anatomical physiology so don't judge yourself on this basis.
You can work your Core standing or on the floor or, for that matter, anywhere in-between. If you struggle to get up and down from the floor, vertical Core Training may be right for you. The resource at the end of this post provides many variations of standing Core exercises.
Some Core exercises are isolated, working only one muscle or structure within the Core and others are multifunctional, activating and training a group of structures (Functional Core Training). For example, Planks and Push-ups work multiple muscle groups. Crunches primarily work the Abdominals. Popular activities that focus on Core strengthing are Pilates and Yoga. Consider participating in these types of classes online or in person a couple of times a week if you are motivated by group activities. Crunches are probably the most familiar exercises for the Abdominals but are not necessarily the best. It is difficult to do Crunches correctly and are contraindicated for anyone with spinal or neck issues.
The complexity of Functional Core Training is due to the body moving in three different planes: Sagittal, Frontal and Transverse. Movement in the Sagittal plane occurs when bending forward and backward, including flexion and extension of the spine. You move in the Frontal plane when you bend the spine from from side to side. When you rotate about the spine you are moving in the transverse plane. Core training involves exercises in all three planes. When you activate your shoulder and hip areas while you work your core you are getting the most bang for your buck.
Some individuals with structural disorders such as spinal deformities or people with Osteoporosis should avoid twisting around the spine and must be careful when bending. Seek advice from a professional before performing spinal rotations or twists if you have spinal issues. It is also critical to bend from the hips, not the waist. If you are not aware of the difference; practice, practice, practice. Stand straight up as tall as you can, like a string is pulling you up vertically from the top of your head. Put your hands on your hip bones and bend from these joints without curving or rounding your spine. This is proper form and should be practiced until it is second nature. We all bend over to pick things up and especially when an object is heavy, you want to bend your knees and fold at the hips to pick up the item.
This post focuses on planks. If you have to pick one exercise to do for your core on a daily basis I would recommend planks or variations of planks (of which there are many!!)
I admit they are not easy, and quite frankly they don't seem to get substantially easier with time but you will notice the positive difference if you do these on a regular basis. You will also notice that, although not easy, you will be able to advance to more challenging varieties, which will further strengthen your Core.
This picture demonstrates an Elbow Plank. Try an elbow plank first for 15 seconds. If that is too difficult, start with vertical planks (see picure below). Form is the most important part of a plank. Your back must be flat and your abs and glutes tight and in a straight line with your back (no curving). Your elbows or hands should be directly under your shoulders. If you have to raise your glutes or your body sinks towards the floor when performing the plank, it is too difficult a stance and you should consider starting with a vertical plank. Ultimately, with regular practice you should be able to hold a plank for 30-60 sec.
There are a multitude of variations to the standard plank that you can try once you master the basic move. Below are just a few possible options.
Hover Plank - Position yourself in a plank as shown above, bend your knees but don't let them touch the floor. Return to above positon.
Three legged plank - starting with a plank on your hands, move to a 3 legged plank by tapping your shoulder with the opposite hand. Return to basic position. Repeat with other hand. Start with one and build up to more reps.
Jumping Jack Plank - in a full plant position, jump your feet out and in or if that is too difficult, walk out with one foot, return and repeat with the other foot.
If you are not an experienced "planker", start with a vertical plank for 15 seconds. Gradually increase the time until you can hold the position for a full minute. You can then graduate to a more difficult plank positio (less vertical - you can do this in stages if you have surfaces of varying heights).
A vertical plank can position you at any level that is off the ground. The more vertical your body the easier the plank. A standing plank with your hands against a wall and your feet as far away from your hands as possible (but stable on the ground or on your toes) while maintaining a tight core, flat back and stability is a great way to start.
Another option to start is being on the floor in a modified push up position, with the form shown for an elbow or full plank but with your knees on the floor. You can also perform push-ups from this position, another challenging Core exercise.
This post focuses on the importance of Core strength, specifically Planks in becoming and remaining fit. Of course this is a brief extract /primer of Core Training, for which entire books are written. It covers only planks but there are many more Core Exercises not covered in this post. If you are interested in learning more about Core Training in general or exercises for your Core specifically, see the following. This is from my certifying organization, ACE Fitness. See acefitness.org. Or, email me!!!