You’ve heard it before, “you need to train your core”. There’s a core class at your gym, almost every reality TV star has a DVD about toning it. It’s important, you’re sure of that, put the only ‘core’ you really know about is the one in the middle of an apple.
It’s time to change that.
‘Core’ is one of those jargon terms that fills up the fitness world. It’s a catch-all, an easy word to throw about.
But what is it really?
As a very general description your ‘core’ is the collection of muscles that make up your abdomen (the good old ‘six pack’ as you probably know it). So far so simple?
You know those weightlifting belts you’ve probably seen people wearing? Well your core is nature’s version of that. It’s one big belt that’s designed to brace and protect your fragile lumbar spine.
You see your lumbar spine is kind of isolated and is responsible for attaching your upper body to your hips. It’s got an important job to do and it’s important to keep your lumbar spine safe and, most importantly, pain free.
You see, most back pain people experience is low back pain. (According to the American Chiropractic Association low back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide….)
We aren’t doing a great job of looking after our backs as a species!
This brings us back to ‘the core’. Partly due to an Austrian bloke (who we won’t name) in the 1980’s and onward we started to view our abdominal muscles more as aesthetic trophies than integral, functional parts of our movement system. The ‘six pack’ was all you really needed.
Crunches and sit ups were done in the tens of thousands to carve out a midsection worthy of Venice Beach.
Millions of people were only training the superficial muscles and only doing it in one plane of movement. They got abs, but they lost a lot of the natural protection that they should have been prioritising.
But here’s the thing- ‘the core’ isn’t really designed to create movement like you’re demanding it to do when you do a sit-up or crunch It’s meant to be protecting your spine.
That means it’s meant to be resisting the spine bending in different directions- i.e in flexion (bending forward), into extension (bending backward), into lateral flexion (shifting sideways) and in rotation (turning on its axis)- stability!
So, what should you be doing to get your ‘core’ good and strong to bullet-proof your back?
- The Plank- an old classic! This one is an anti-extension exercise that everyone should be doing. However, spinal experts the world over now don’t recommend you do your planks as a test of endurance- do them 10 seconds on 10 seconds off. Hold a perfect plank for 10 seconds, breathing in through your nose and blowing out, hard, through your lips as if you were trying to blow up a balloon. Do 5 to 10 rounds of 10 second holds with proper breathing.
- The side plank. While we are on the floor, we might as well train the next function of the core, our anti-lateral flexion (side bending). Do the same process with side planks as we did with the basic planks. 5-10 rounds of 10 seconds.
- One arm Dumbbell row- Super simple, grab a dumbbell and stand with feet shoulder width apart and with one hand balancing you on a bench. Your torso should be at 45 degrees or so. Pull the dumbbell into your hip. Whilst you’re rowing, use your core to stop your body from rotating as the weight tries to drag you towards the floor. Not only are you training anti-rotation, but you’re getting in some very valuable upper back work too! Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
These three exercises will improve how your core functions and provide enough stimulus to give you the abdominal toning you’re looking for!
Give them a try!