Updated: Feb 15, 2021
Let’s face it, most of us would love strong, perfect abs, and it’s so much harder to sustain as we get older, but for years (in my pre teaching days) I hated ‘ab work’. I found it painful and boring, but actually knew very little about the benefits and how to do them properly. These days I start every class I teach with core work!
There are endless exercise devices on the market promising us abs of steel in days! But isolating the abdominal muscles is not the answer. Overtraining abdominal muscles while excluding the muscles of the back and hips can set you up for injury, and you are missing out on more effective and efficient movement, better strength gains, longevity of health, and also more efficient movement.
You need to strengthen a variety of muscles we know as the Core. The Core is more complex and goes way beyond the abdominal muscles. A lot of people don’t realise that the Core includes everything but the arms and legs and is incorporated in to almost every movement of the human body. Many of the muscles are hidden beneath the exterior muscles people usually train. The strength and coordination of Core muscles are important in any exercise and sport, and also in daily life - for example lifting something heavy, bathing or dressing, reaching up to a shelf, or even picking something off the floor!
The deeper muscles include the transverse abdominus, multifidus, diaphragm, pelvic floor and many more deep muscles. These deep muscles support the more superficial muscles so it’s important to strengthen them also.
Your core acts more as a stabilizer than a prime mover.
Core conditioning improves posture, projects confidence, lessens wear and tear on the spine, and allows you to breathe deeply. Developing core strength can also make every activity you do more efficient and effective, reducing the risk of injury and helps with balance. Weak core muscles lead to slouching which leads to muscle tension, back pain, joint pain, reduced circulation and can also lead to breathing issues and fatigue.
Studies carried out in the 1990s show that people with healthy bodies (no low back pain) automatically contract their core muscles before they move an arm or a leg. One of the main muscles involved is the transverse abdominus which wraps around the pelvic area like a Saran wrap and which keeps the pelvis stable and supports the low back. So, experts concluded that well-coordinated core muscle use stabilises the spine and helps create a firm base of support for all movements. For this reason, I always start my classes with core work.
The role of the core is also central to the Pilates method. This was developed by Joseph Pilates during World War One. He helped to rehabilitate soldiers returning from the war. In Pilates we strengthen the core by keeping it stable throughout the exercises.
So, it's important to include exercises that work the core muscles as part of an overall fitness plan, at the start of your exercise class, using the proper alignment and a deliberate pace. It is more important to do the exercise correctly than the number of repetitions. And also, don't forget to breathe!
Have a look at my short video, Yoga - 'core control’ and my ‘Pilates for a strong core’ either of which would be good to practice daily or before any activity!