Weighty Wednesday -- What is CORE? And why do I care?

**DISCLAIMER: I am not a trainer, doctor, exercise physiologist or any other person who has been trained in the field of exercise physiology. These are simply my observations and various tidbits of knowledge that I've garnered over the years through college studies, teaching aerobics, general exercise, reading and horseback riding. **

Unless you've played an ostrich the last couple of years, you would have heard various exercise enthusiasts and trainers throwing the term CORE around.

So what is core, why is it big deal, and why should you care?

Many trainers will liken the term with strengthening your abs, but core is much, much more than that.

Let's take a quick look into basic human physiology. The bones provide the structure of our bodies, the joints (cartilage) allow various bones to 'hinge' and move, while tendons attach our muscles to bones or other muscles. If you remove our appendages, you will be left with your torso, also known as your core. 

Now, you have your ribcage which protects your vital organs of heart and lungs, while nothing protects your guts except a variety of overlapping muscles. And the bones below your gut is the pelvis, which cradles the guts and give support to the muscles surrounding the intestines.

The reason you want to straighten your core is to keep everything in place. If you allow your abdominal muscles to grow lax, then all sorts of problems (hernias) can ensue. Yes, pregnancy also causes numerous changes, but I can't go into that here. Another reason to strengthen your core is to aid in the support of your spine.

So your mother telling you to stop slumping actually had a purpose of protecting your posture and spine.

Years ago when I started horseback riding, I read a book called CENTERED RIDING by Sally Swift. The key to being centered is to find the most balance and effective position, depending upon the exercise. This is the reason so many therapeutic riding facilities are so successful with their clients, though many are going out of business due to lack of funds. When a horse walks, its entire body moves. Those of us who have ridden bareback and attest to that! If you are a stiff rider, you will feel the pain . . . especially when you tumble off. But those of you who have a well-developed core will allow your body to work with the movement in a relaxed way.

When a horse trots up hill, the rider must lean slightly forward and stand in their stirrups to aid the horse as it uses its back and haunches to push up the hill. Traveling downhill, the rider must shift her weight toward the rear of the horse. If you leaned forward, there would be too much weight on the horse's front end, resulting in unbalancing the horse.

So how does this work with real life?

A strong core burns calories more efficiently, along with stabilizing the body. This is why I prefer walking outdoors where the variety of the terrain forces my core to compensate--incline, decline, strong wind, uneven terrain.

Many people who use the treadmill do NOT use the machine appropriately. And yes, I have another whole blog about this!

But how can you get the benefit of core exercise without doing endless sit-ups?

There is one simple exercise that is amazingly painful and efficient. It's called THE PLANK.  And here is a picture of what it looks like. Simply get into position and hold it, be sure to tighten your abs so they don't sag. That's it. Simple, huh? At about 10 seconds my entire body is shaking. But try to do this and hold it for 30 seconds daily.
 There is another version of the plank that helps your side muscles. Do this on both sides. Uh, I'm not so studly that I can put my free hand on my waist. Usually I have it lightly touching the ground in front of me to keep me from falling over.
 When I started searching the Internet for some pictures, I came across numerous sites with many advance versions of this exercise. Start easy and then work up from there.

Will this give you six-pack abs?

No, but at my age, I don't want them. Actually, they would be just plain creepy on an old broad like me! But I do want to be toned and healthy. So I better get out of my chair and do a set of planks for the day!

Later, Peeps!


Edie Ramer said...

Very cool. I just tried and was able to do it and didn't feel strained. I just did 10 seconds each one, because (1) I'm in my housecoat (2) there was something suspicious looking on my carpet that turned out to be a brown leaf (3) my tea was waiting at my computer. But I'll try this later.

I think the reason I could do it without too much strain is that I often do body lifts against my counter while I'm waiting for stuff in the microwave. I put my palms on the counter and push up from there in a slanting position, my arms straight. I've been doing that for years.

magolla said...

There are a few sites that show alternate versions of this, Edie. Some are more difficult simply by placing your forearms on an exercise ball, or lifting an arm or leg in a couple sets of 10.

Jody Werner said...

Core is THE KEY to maintaining body position while riding. It was my secret weapon and the reason I was a champion at what I did! I am continually telling my students that if they don't build core strength they may as well find a new sport. You can tell which ones have it and which ones don't.

Jody Werner said...

PS - with that second exercise, you will get more benefit if you wean yourself off stabilizing yourself with your other arm. The act of working to balance and maintain the position brings in to play the "stabilizing" muscles in your core, which are the support system to the other core muscles - it's a much more complete workout to engage them as well.

If putting your hand on your waist doesn't do it for you, extend the arm straight up as though pointing at the ceiling. It will help you balance a bit while still engaging the stabilizer muscles.

magolla said...

I love the idea of core training without umpteen sit-ups, Jods. This is why I pointed out theraputic riding and the main reason I love walking outside--every little wobble/irregularity/ terrain change/etc help the tiny torso muscles to activate, which help strengthen core.

I did the side plank again, after I saw your comment and I don't need to use my top arm for balance UNLESS the dog is in my face. Nothing like a sheepdog going for kisses to ruin an exercise! I have to do this in the one room she's not allowed into--the living room/dining room combo area.