When people think of ‘core strengthening’ they most often think of killer 6 pack abs. As you age, getting that look may not interest you as much, so you might not be spending time on strengthening your core muscles – if any. What you may not know is that your core muscles offer some other significant health benefits far beyond the cosmetic look of a flat, 6-pack stomach. Here’s what you should know…
Core Exercises Can Help Several Aspects of Your Health
Your core muscles are not just your upper and lower abdominals that are so often targeted in core exercise routines. Core muscles also include your pelvic girdle muscles, your hip muscles, and even your lower back muscles. So, keeping all of the core muscles strong can help do the following:
A. Help keep your reproductive organs in place and prevent them from prolapsing, or falling forward.
B. Help keep your hipbones strong and less prone to fracture – when your hip muscles are exercised they rub against hipbones to stimulate growth and density.
C. Help keep your lower back muscles from getting weak and more prone to injury (and back pain!) while lifting objects.
D. Helps your posture/breathing. When you sit up straight, your lungs are better able to expand and take in more oxygen.
E. Improves balance, flexibility. Strong core muscles benefit both your upper and lower body. They help you walk with greater balance and just move better in general, helping you to be more agile and flexible. Stiffness and rigidity of movement is what causes people to fall (and break bones) more often.
F. Keep abdominal muscles from sagging. Not only do saggy abdominal muscles look unattractive, but they also contribute to low back pain, especially if you have a few extra pounds around your midsection.
How To Get A Strong Core
In starting to do core work, start slowly as out of shape core muscles need a little time to ease into working them. Remember to always warm up first doing stretching exercises, particularly those where your arms are lifted overhead which activate your core. Here’s a few good, whole body stretches:
1. Stand with your feet about 1 ft apart. Lift your hands over your head, swing your arms down and try to touch the palms of your hands on the floor. If you’re not able to touch your palms, try your fingertips to the floor, or to your calves or knees if you can’t yet stretch that far. Repeat this exercise several times – you should feel your hamstrings stretch as well as in your lower back and buttocks.
2. Stand with your feet 1 ft apart. Lace your hands behind your head. Now, slowly twist all the way to one side so that you’re facing the wall. Then slowly twist back to the other side. Repeat this exercise several times. You should feel it stretch in your back, hips, waist, and upper thighs. If you feel off balance, move your hands to your waist.
There are 2 types of exercise that are particularly helpful in toning and strengthening core muscles – kettlebell and medicine ball workouts. Both are whole body exercise that use a weighed object – either a kettlebell or a medicine ball (ranging from 5 lbs up) that adds tension to your moves, requires you to balance, and provides greater toning benefit to muscles. Anytime you do whole body exercise, your core is activated to keep your body moving, and balancing, in 3-dimensional space. Both kettlebell and medicine ball exercise make use of overhead swinging, arm circling above head, and torso twisting movements that specifically target the core muscles. Follow the links here to 2 helpful YouTube videos.
Now, you may not have kettlebell or medicine ball equipment yet or you may not feel quite ready to try them. You will certainly feel your efforts after your workout. These 2 types of exercises produce rather quick results but, if you’d rather start out at more of a beginner’s level, follow the link here to a great workout found on YouTube that will show you how to do basic core exercises that don’t require any additional equipment. You’ll also find many other instructional videos on YouTube where you can learn core-strengthening moves.
If you like swimming, overhead crawl moves are particularly good at strengthening core muscles as well as burning calories. In addition, there are several core exercises that can be done in the water that can be helpful to those with knee, or hip joint pain. Aim for 10-15 minutes of targeted exercises, 3 times a week. Pretty soon you’ll be noticing better posture and the ability to breathe more deeply, along with less lower back and hip pain, and a flatter stomach.