It’s trendy so you know you want it! A strong core – this is a catchy phrase that may bring images of the perfect bikini body, a flat tummy or a six-pack to mind. Just like anything trendy is usually kind of shallow, there’s much more important considerations to core strength than what we can see on the surface.
I wasn’t always an athletic person and before I got involved in a regular fitness routine, started talking with personal trainers and dedicated myself to a constant yoga practice, I would sit around and wonder how many sit-ups I would need to do for the flat tummy I wanted. The reality is that I could have done hundreds of sit-ups a day, but still would not have achieved the results I truly wanted because core strength goes deeper than superficial results.
When we look at the anatomy of a human body, we can see that the spine is the structural support throughout the core region, coupled with the pelvis. The pelvic floor, diaphragm, connective tissue called fascia and complex layers of muscles work together to stabilize our entire trunk. Targeting an outer layer of this complex system is not sufficient for building actual core strength that will promote spine health and build muscle mass. When we start thinking of the body as a comprehensive machine, we begin to see the importance of establishing a strong core as a foundation for all athletic, fitness and health goals. Some great, detailed information about the anatomy of the body from a personal training perspective can be found here.
Some signs that you may need to build more core strength:
- Back pain (especially lower back problems)
- Poor posture (slouching or rounding when standing for long periods of time)
- Weak pelvic floor muscles (experiencing lack of bladder or bowel control)
- Shallow breathing (remember, the diaphragm is part of the core so remember to breath deep into your lungs and belly)
- Difficulty balancing or holding planks and side planks (all of these poses require full core strength for longer hold times)
Some things you can do to build more core strength:
Yoga! Yoga asanas (yoga poses), especially in more active practices like vinyasa flows and ashtanga series build strength from the core out. Starting with simply focusing on breath, then adding balance and stability to asanas, you can begin to build both flexibility and strength at the same time.
Pay attention to posture! Awareness of using all of the muscles of the body will help us to engage and build strength even if we are just standing around or walking for a long period of time. Take breaks from sitting at a desk or in front of the TV to stand up, be active and stretch.
Talk with a personal trainer! Consult an expert. By working with a certified personal trainer, you can discuss your unique needs and find ways to incorporate core strength training into all aspects of your fitness routines, including proper technique for cardio and aerobic activities, along with weight and strength training targeted for core fitness.
For your health and safety, make sure to consult a medical professional if you are just starting out with a new fitness program and ensure that your fitness instructor and personal trainer is certified. If you are based in North America, you can ask for their credentials and have them verified with the National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT) here. You can also review your yoga instructor’s certifications with Yoga Alliance. Make sure to work with professional to get the best results for your efforts and to stay safe in the process.