Physical strength starts in the core. However, the idea of core can mean different things to different people.
Many only recognize the abdominal muscles as the body’s core, but the human core structure is much more than that. The core area of the body includes all the body’s muscles except for those in the extremities (including the head).
Essentially, this means that there are far more muscles involved in complete core training than most people assume. Complete core training is a fundamental part of fitness training and too often overlooked when working out.
Think about this: There are almost thirty muscles attached to the core and together they enable the body to move as an integrated unit.
Here is my list of the top ten benefits of core training:
- Tightens the abdominal structures involved in movement and improves the transfer of power to and from the extremities.
- Teaches the muscles to work together efficiently and effectively.
- Aids in the prevention of injury.
- Strengthens and improves the torso’s stabilization.
- Can improve respiratory function.
- Facilitates proper distribution of weight and assists the body in absorption of force and transfer of forces.
- Enhances neuromuscular efficiency throughout the body and neuromuscular control for efficient movement and physical positioning.
- Improves spinal and postural control while the body is still and in motion.
- Helps to stabilize and align the spine, ribs and pelvis of a person to withstand static and dynamic force.
- Tightens and flattens the tummy.
These benefits alone should be reason enough to motivate any person to include more complete core training in their fitness program. However, it can be difficult for some people to muster up the time and discipline it takes to regularly complete an effective core workout.
Fortunately, many gyms now offer core training programs in group settings. This is a great way to get familiar with proper form, pace and execution of exercises under the supervision of a certified instructor. The programs are designed by experts for people who enjoy training with others in a group setting and are often set to music.
If a person prefers more personal attention and privacy, most personal trainers can design and teach customized core programs. The trainer can provide the knowledge, motivation and encouragement towards a fitter future. A personal trainer will be able to do a core assessment test and create a program that is customized to personal ability, needs and goals while inspiring a person to break through “plateaus,”and help elevate a client to the next level or out of a fitness “funk."
Naturally, if a person has physical issues, it is recommended to consult a health specialist before engaging in any kind of physical training.
For beginners it is recommended to start with 10 minutes of core exercises, twice a day, morning and evening.
To start, choose three core exercises and repeat as three sets of 10 repetitions. Select simple exercises and focus on form before moving on to more repetitions, more sets, or more complex exercises.
The body will often indicate how far one can go and when it is ready to advance to a higher level of training. Focus on safety and form first. For a professional core evaluation, schedule an appointment with a qualified trainer or physical therapist.
As core strength improves, start including exercises that address more than just the outer units of the abdominal muscles. Pay attention to the muscles that connect the upper and lower body and provide maximum strength and stabilization during certain body movements, called sling muscles.
There are anterior (front), lateral (side) and posterior (back) sling structures. For example: The anterior longitudinal sling muscles consist of the pectoral muscles (chest), external and internal obliques (abdominal sides), and transverse abdominis (deep muscle layer in the front and side of the abdomen). Training all aspects of the core will greatly improve a person’s three dimensional core strength and stability. Everyone needs that!
Quality or Quantity?
Always choose quality over quantity when it comes to executing the exercises.
Focus and be present in the moment. Pay attention to what the body is doing and how it feels. Engage in proper breathing and move at a pace that won’t compromise the goal and form of the exercise.
When working with weights, train with a partner for spotting, support and motivation. Or train with a personal trainer for challenging, but safe workouts that accelerate results. Start at the appropriate level and gradually build up to the desired level of strength and endurance over the course of a planned period, using a strategy that sets you up for success.
Core training can be done as often as the body permits. Once the core is trained to failure, it’s often sore afterwards. It is very important to allow the trained muscles to recover. Recovery can take from a day to a week, depending on the intensity level of the training and condition of the body. Training a muscle group again, before it is recovered, is not advised and can cause problems such as overtraining and injury.
When muscle soreness occurs, drink lots of water, stretch the muscles regularly over the course of the day, and warm up the body at least once a day. Ten to 20 minutes on a treadmill can do the job, depending on speed, incline and fitness level. Whatever the choice of warm up, it should bring a person to a light sweat.
Once the body is perspiring consistently, one can cool down. A post workout massage and a warm bath can also help, get in the tub while the water is nice and warm, then let the water cool down naturally, so that the body can cool down naturally with it. Post-workout drinks can also help with muscle soreness and repair.
Finish up with a good night’s rest and your core will soon reward you with optimal shape and performance.