Like your mamma always said, “Sit up straight. – Shoulders back, chest proud, and stomach tight.” At least this is what my mom always told me as my upper back was hunched over and my stomach was relaxed over my pants. Proper posture is a direct result of a strong core and many people fail to train their core properly or avoid it all together. Unfortunately it’s not just doing 100 crunches a day that will help strengthen your core.
A strong core isn’t just about ripped abdominals: it is essential to proper posture, spinal alignment, and support of your hip and lower-back muscles. The muscles in your core respond to all ranges of motion. The obliques are responsible for core rotation and flexion. The rectus abdominus flexes your spine and the low back, or erector spinae, is responsible for spinal extension. Your transvere abdominus (also known as the girdle) wraps around your entire mid-section as a slimming support system and lastly the hip flexors, a group of skeletal muscles, are used to support hip abduction and adduction.
Training your core is not limited to doing 500 crunches in the gym. In fact, crunches are often your least productive tool in the arena of core training. The key to activating your “powerhouse” is to apply a training regimen that focuses on functional movements rather than isolating exercises like crunches. A great deal of your core training can be done very productively in the comforts of your own home.
Two practices that highlight functional core movement are Pilates and yoga. Pilates, developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century, is a mind/body discipline that helps increase flexibility and strengthen the legs, abdominals, hips, and back (entire core). The practice emphasizes spinal alignment, proper breathing techniques to allow oxygen flow to the core muscles contracting, and improved balance and coordination.
According to Wikipedia, Pilates effectively engages your Powerhouse, “by the hollowing of the deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles (“deep muscle corset”), by drawing the navel back into the spine in a zipping-up motion, from the pubic bone to the breast bone thereby engaging the heels, the back of the inner thighs, the deep lower back muscles, and the muscles surrounding the sitting bones and tailbone area without inhibiting the natural function of the diaphragm—that is without the practitioner holding their breath either from lifting the chest upwards or contracting the chest.” In summation this practice based on muscle contraction and breath technique can engage the core without ever lifting your head off the mat.
The Pilates practice is based on fundamental principles which allow for different exercises to be performed at a variety of fitness levels, making this mind/body program feasible for beginners and advanced core trainers. You can also practice the methods on a variety of apparatuses. Traditional mat classes are most common and they often use a variety of equipment such as weighted exercise balls, foam rollers, rotating disks, resistance bands, and the magic circle to create variations and increase the difficulty of the traditional exercises.
Yoga is another mind/body practice, originating from ancient India, which can positively enhance your posture and core strength. It is based on physical movements called “asanas” (postures/poses) and breathing techniques. The series of poses function by stretching the muscles, increasing the range of motion at various joints, and help to promote flexibility and fluidity throughout the body. All of these aspects help to improve the body’s “powerhouse” because many of the asanas rely on the stability of the core to execute each movement. As your asanas improve and increase in difficulty the core’s strength and stability also increases – the two go hand in hand.
Another reward yoga can provide your “powerhouse” is its ability to reduce stiffness, tension, pain and fatigue in your core muscles. Core strength and resistance training create a build of lactic acid in the muscle tissue, which can be a common cause for the above issues. By learning and executing proper core yoga poses you stretch the muscles and soft tissues surrounding your powerhouse. The reduction in fatigue and improvement in flexibility will later lead to gains in athletic performance and traditional weighted core strength routines.
To begin your Pilates and yoga training you can watch at home DVD’s, take classes at specialty studios, or even find beginner and advances classes at your local fitness facility.
A strong core doesn’t just help you rock the summer bikini and prevent muffin top in those fall jeans– it also helps you perform better in everyday tasks. It is your central powerhouse of your body that can optimize your athleticism and prevent injuries in your everyday life. And always keep in mind that the 6-pack doesn’t just happen with physical activity. Proper nutrition will be 80% of the equation to begin to see a visual difference in your abdominal region.