by Rick Mayo
The word “core” is the latest buzz in the fitness industry. I receive a lot of questions regarding the core and how it affects the aesthetics and function of our bodies.
First, I should explain that the core is more than the abs that are visible on the models in fitness commercials. The core is comprised of multiple layers of abdominal muscles, most of which are too deep in the abdomen to be seen. Several of these muscles are attached on or near the spine and are responsible for spinal strength and stability.
Surprisingly, your core muscles are not really affected by conventional crunches. Regular crunches work your rectus abdominus (“six-pack”) muscles and some of the obliques (“love handles”). Although these muscles are important for looking good, they do little in the way of stabilizing your spine.
A great core exercise is the stability ball crunch. Not only do these crunches work your “six pack” muscles, but they also work your transverse abdominus (your natural weight belt). Your transverse abdominus is required for any and all activities. For instance, if someone throws you a ball, before you even move your arms to catch the ball, the tranverse abdominus must fire to stabilize the spine. This contraction happens in any and every movement that you make. A recent study concluded that people who performed crunches on the stability ball were able to stand on one foot twice as long as people who performed conventional floor crunches. Needless to say, this is one of the most important muscles in your body.
Core training also increases the flexibility in your hamstrings and hips. If your core is weak, your hamstrings and hips must work overtime to help stabilize your spine. This extra work results in tight, stressed muscles and ultimately, back pain. When you strengthen your core muscles, you allow the hamstrings and hips to relax and perform their normal functions. So you have tight hamstrings? You need a stronger core!
Finally, core strength is vital for injury prevention. Whether you are lifting a heavy box in the garage or skiing in Colorado, your core strength is critical to stabilize the spine. Without a strong mid-section, you cannot adequately control your limb movements.
Remember, you don’t want to look like a shiny new Porsche and run like a 1972 Gremlin!